U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday he was being sarcastic when he suggested that disinfectants could be used to treat coronavirus patients. He comments followed expressions of alarm from health experts and warnings from a maker of the sanitizing solutions.
Trump said Friday that his comments the previous day were not intended to be taken as a serious suggestion.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump told reporters during a bill signing in the Oval Office.
On Thursday, Trump said at his regular White House coronavirus media briefing that scientists should investigate inserting disinfectants into patients’ bodies to cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning?”
With coronavirus response coordinator and physician Deborah Birx looking on, Trump noted the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
Physicians and other health experts warned Friday against Trump’s suggestion to use disinfectants to treat the virus.
“(This is an) absolutely dangerous, crazy suggestion,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain's University of East Anglia.
An academic pharmacist at the University of Reading in Berkshire, England, Parastou Donyai, expressed shock over what she said were “unscientific comments” that could lead people with the virus to seek homemade remedies.
“What is shocking about these latest comments is that they completely bypass other important facts about injections…not only will homemade injections bruise, burn, or block the veins, they will almost certainly also introduce new infections straight into the body, the very thing people are desperate to avoid.”
"People worried about the coronavirus or COVID-19 should seek help from a qualified doctor or pharmacist, and not take unfounded and off-the-cuff comments as actual advice,” Donyai added.
University of California public policy professor and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted that "Trump's briefings are actively endangering the public's health” and advised people, “don't drink disinfectant.”
Trump’s remarks have also sparked warnings from manufacturers of household disinfectants. The maker of Lysol and Dettol, Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser company, said, “Under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body, through injection, ingestion or any other route.”
The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, tweeted that Trump’s regular media briefings are putting lives at risk.
“As a public service, please stop airing these coronavirus briefings; they are endangering lives,” Shaub said. “And please do not drink or inject disinfectant.”
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement Friday that Trump has urged people to check with their doctors about treatment, and she accused the media of distorting his comments.
“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,” McEnany said.
Trump also discussed the possible use of heat and light to treat the coronavirus during Thursday’s briefing.
When asked if it is dangerous to make people think they would be safe by going outside in the heat, given that so many people have died in the U.S. state of Florida, nicknamed the “Sunshine State,” Trump said, “I hope people enjoy the sun. And if it has an impact, that’s great.”
Trump’s comments came after Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Science William Bryan said there was “emerging” research on the ability of sunlight and humidity to reduce the threat of the virus.
Trump asked Birx during the briefing if she was aware of any evidence that heat or light could be used as potential treatment. She responded by saying, “Not as a treatment.”
Past studies have not found evidence that warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels in spring and summer could help curb the spread of the virus.
Trump has repeatedly pushed for unverified treatments of the coronavirus, including his touting of hydroxychloroquine as a possible “game changer,” an assertion that health officials have warned against.
A man in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona died late last month after he consumed chloroquine phosphate, which is used to treat malaria. The man’s wife told NBC News that he believed it would prevent him from being infected with the coronavirus after watching Trump tout the potential benefits of chloroquine phosphate during his televised briefings.
In a related development, the man who was once the top Department of Health and Human Services official, Dr. Rick Bright, says he was fired from his job earlier this week for pushing back on demands that he approve chloroquine treatments.
The Democratic Party chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, Anna Eshoo, said Thursday she plans to hold hearings on Bright’s departure.
The United States leads the world by far in COVID-19 deaths, with more than 50,000 deaths, more than one-fourth of the nearly 196,000 fatalities worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases.
Nearly one-third of all confirmed cases globally are in the U.S., with Johns Hopkins reporting more than 890,500 cases in the country.