The White House on Thursday again denied the administration has ever considered a policy of "herd immunity" for COVID-19 infections.
"The herd immunity so-called theory was something made up in the fanciful minds of the media. That was never something that was ever considered here at the White House," press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters during a briefing.
McEnany was responding to reports that new White House pandemic adviser Scott Atlas, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who is not an epidemiologist or infectious diseases expert, had advocated for the Trump administration to lift all restrictions aimed at stopping infections from spreading.
Atlas has publicly downplayed the importance of mask wearing, and has suggested the U.S. shouldn't be testing so many people.
The goal of herd immunity is to get as many "healthy" people infected as possible in order to build widespread resistance, while protecting the most vulnerable populations.
The U.S. has let states take the lead on their own coronavirus strategies, and there has been no centralized response from the White House. The U.S. has recorded more than 6 million COVID-19 infections and more than 186,000 deaths.
White House officials have spent the week denying The Washington Post's report that Atlas has been pushing herd immunity — and that President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE has been listening.
Trump seemingly referred to herd immunity during an interview with Fox News on Monday.
“Once you get to a certain number, you know — we use the word herd, right?” Trump told Laura IngrahamLaura Anne Ingraham90 percent of full-time Fox Corp. employees say they're fully vaccinated: executive Texas lt. governor faces backlash after claiming unvaccinated African Americans responsible for COVID-19 surge Fox News requires employees to provide vaccination status MORE. “Once you get to a certain number, it’s going to go away.”
On Wednesday, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah BirxDeborah BirxHouse COVID-19 panel questioning Deborah Birx Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response Fauci and Birx warned Scott Atlas was 'dangerous' MORE said she would not be a part of the administration if Trump believed herd immunity was a viable strategy.
“Neither I, nor anybody in the administration, is willing to sacrifice American lives for herd immunity. We’ll get to herd immunity through a vaccine and that’s the right way to do it,” Birx said.
Despite the denials, the administration's approach to the pandemic has changed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its guidelines last week, and no longer recommends asymptomatic people get tested even if they have been exposed to someone with the disease.
The strategy serves to underrepresent the true number of people infected with the virus, but lower case numbers could bolster Trump's reelection chances.
Trump and his top aides have also taken to holding public events without wearing a mask and without requiring attendees to wear them, most notably last week's Republican National Convention speech on the White House lawn.