Amid a flurry of backlash and ridicule, President Trump walked back his suggestion that scientists test whether disinfectants, such as bleach, could be injected inside the human body to fight the coronavirus, claiming Friday that he had said it sarcastically.
The president offered his idea for a cure in the White House briefing room Thursday after a presentation that mentioned disinfectants can kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces and in the air.
“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The question, which Trump offered unprompted, immediately spurred doctors, lawmakers and the makers of Lysol to respond with incredulity and warnings against injecting or otherwise ingesting disinfectants, which are highly toxic.
When asked Friday during a bill signing in the Oval Office to expand upon this, Trump said it was not intended as a serious suggestion.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump said.
There was no indication when he made the initial remarks that they were not a real recommendation.
“My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea,” Craig Spencer, the director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post. “This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice. This is dangerous.”
In a statement Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not say the president had been joking, but rather she defended that Trump had said Americans should consult with their doctors about treatment. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams released a statement reiterating that advice on Friday morning.
“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing,” she said.
Trump’s eyebrow-raising query came immediately after William N. Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, gave a presentation on the potential impact of summer heat and humidity, which also included references to tests that showed the effectiveness of different types of disinfectants. He recounted data from recent tests that showed how bleach, alcohol and sunlight could kill the coronavirus on surfaces.
Bryan said bleach killed the virus in about five minutes and isopropyl alcohol killed it in 30 seconds. In tests, sunlight and high temperatures also appeared to shorten the virus’s life on surfaces and in the air, Bryan said.
Trump has previously claimed that the arrival of summer weather will help fight the coronavirus outbreak without resorting to measures that carry significant economic ramifications. The study Bryan presented Thursday appeared to support those claims to some degree, although its results have not been peer-reviewed.Trump suggests using ‘light and heat’ as a coronavirus curePresident Trump on April 23 suggested doctors should look at using light and heat on the body to see if it helps covid-19 patients. (The Washington Post)
As Bryan left the lectern without answering reporters’ questions, Trump stepped up to the microphone. Before he allowed anyone to ask a question, the president offered an answer to a “question that, probably, some of you are thinking of if you are totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting.”
That is when he asked about injecting an unspecified disinfectant into the lungs of covid-19 patients. He also raised the possibility of using light to combat the viral infection and suggested consulting medical doctors with these questions.
“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan. “And then, I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.”
He continued: “And I think you said you’re going to test that, too. Sounds interesting.”
As the president spoke, one of his top public health experts, Deborah Birx, who serves as the response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, listened in a chair a few feet away from the podium.
Birx did not immediately respond to Trump’s remarks about light therapy or disinfectant injections at the coronavirus briefing. Instead, she watched silently from the sidelines, her lips pressed in a tight line as Trump riffed on testing the unproven treatments.
Later in the briefing, Trump turned to Birx and asked if she had any knowledge of heat or light being used as a potential treatment for covid-19.
“Not as a treatment,” Birx answered from her seat. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond.” Then Trump started talking again, cutting her answer short.
Other doctors stepped forward after the briefing to challenge the president, calling his comments “irresponsible,” “extremely dangerous” and “frightening” in interviews with The Post as they rushed to warn people of the dire consequences of ingesting caustic chemicals.
“We’ve heard the president trying to practice medicine for several weeks now, but this is a new low that is outside the realms of common sense or plausibility,” said Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
“I can understand looking to medicines that might have some effect or some sort of studies in a petri dish showing that they might work on a virus,” Marino added. “But talking about putting ultraviolet radiation inside of the human body or putting antiseptic things that are toxic to life inside of living people, it doesn’t make any sense anymore.”
And not only were Trump’s statements baffling, doctors told The Post, but his remarks could also pose risks to the lives of those who interpret the words as a suggestion to try the unproven treatments themselves.
“People will do extraordinary things if you give them the idea,” said Dara Kass, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.