At an unusually contentious briefing Thursday of the coronavirus task force, President Trump floated the idea that people infected with COVID-19 might be treated using injections of disinfectant and applications of ultraviolet light.
Trump brought up those theories in the context of a presentation by William Bryan, a scientist at the Department of Homeland Security, about research indicating that the virus can be killed on surfaces and in aerosols by heat, humidity, sunlight and disinfectants, specifically bleach and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. None of the medical experts at the briefing suggested that these were plausible treatments for people already infected.
“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 we’re going to test it,” Trump said. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”
As Bryan looked on uncomfortably, the president went on to speculate about the possibility of using disinfectants as a treatment.
“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on the lungs,” Trump continued.
“It would be interesting to check that. That you’re gonna have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see.”
Asked directly whether Trump’s suggestion that injecting bleach or using light to treat COVID-19 made sense, Bryan said his laboratory was not pursuing those ideas.
The temperatures Bryan’s laboratory had been researching in terms of their effect on the coronavirus were in the range of 70 degrees to 95 degrees. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees.
Trump, who has long held out hope that the virus would “disappear” with rising springtime temperatures, touted Bryan’s findings as proof that he had been right all along. At the same time, the president said he had not read new studies that seemed to show that the drugs hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir, which he has championed despite a lack of clinical trials, were not effective in treating COVID-19.
Pressed by reporters on whether Bryan’s findings were enough to guarantee that it was safe to reopen the country in the coming weeks, Trump dialed back expectations.
“I hope people enjoy the sun, and if it has an impact that’s great,” Trump said. “I’m just hearing this, not really for the first time, there’s been a rumor that, a very nice rumor, that you go outside in the sun or you have heat and that does have an affect on other viruses. But now we get it from one of the great laboratories in the world, I have to say.”
The president then returned to his theory that light and heat might be harnessed to treat patients sickened by the coronavirus.
“I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure, you know? If you could, and maybe you can, maybe you can’t,” Trump said. “Again, I say, maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor, but I’m like a person who has a good — you know what.”
Trump then turned to Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leading scientific experts on the task force, and asked, “Have you ever heard of that?”
“Not as a treatment,” Birx responded. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever it helps your body respond.”
“I think it’s a great thing to look at,” Trump added.
When Washington Post reporter Phil Rucker then told Trump that people tuned into the briefings not to hear rumors, but to learn useful information, Trump responded, “I’m the president and you’re fake news.”
Dismayed physicians, however, took to Twitter during the briefing to warn patients not to use common cleaning products to counteract the coronavirus.