Mainlining disinfectants. Blasting the body with ultraviolet light—from the inside. President Donald Trump turned again Thursday to pushing tenuous findings during the coronavirus pandemic, touting an “emerging result” from the Department of Homeland Security that suggested sunlight and heat can weaken the spread of coronavirus.
But by the end of Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing, questions over the findings had caused Trump to lash out at a reporter and go on the defensive after he suggested a range of bizarre—and downright dangerous—possible treatments based off the announcement.
Bill Bryan, who leads the science and technology directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, presented an “emerging result” from departmental research that suggested UV light, heat and humidity are detrimental to COVID-19.
“Our most striking observation to date is the powerful effect that solar light appears to have on killing the virus, both surfaces and in the air,” Bryan said.
However, Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and a Daily Beast contributor, was quick to challenge the presentation during a subsequent appearance on MSNBC.
“Everything that this scientist talked about from Homeland Security was basically incoherent, nonsensical, not really supported by evidence and really quite contrary to a lot of things we do know,” Redlener said.
Trump’s has shared concerning medical advice during the pandemic, like placing a major emphasis on the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus symptoms. But his fiery push for the untested drug has subsided in recent days, after government-funded research undercut Trump’s longed-for panacea.
According to Bryan’s presentation, higher temperatures, humidity and sunlight were found to be “detrimental to SARS-CoV-2 in saliva droplets” either on surfaces or through the air.
A second slide said heat and humidity, either indoors and outdoors, “suppresses COVID-19,” and that “sunlight impedes virus transmission.” It also said that bleach and isopropyl alcohol “work to kill the virus” on surfaces in around five minutes and 30 seconds respectively.
When a reporter asked if the study was conclusive and if there was more work to be done, Bryan said “we’re continuing that.”
After the presentation, Trump asked whether UV light could be used to help people with the virus, whether sunlight could be brought “inside the body,” or whether disinfectant materials could be injected into bodies or used to cleanse bodies in the same way they disinfect surfaces.
“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. 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,” Trump said, adding it “sounds interesting.”
He ad libbed about what disinfectants could do inside the human body.
“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks [the virus] out [from a surface] 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 on the lungs and it does a tremendous number,” Trump pondered.
That suggestion further concerned Redlener, who said on MSNBC: “The fact the president asked about injecting disinfectants or isopropyl alcohol into the human body was kind of jaw-dropping.”
He said UV light could be very harmful to people and it was not safe to air unbalanced medical debates on primetime. It was “a pack of nonsense” and “really distressing” to hear, he said.
Several medical experts immediately took to Twitter to plead with people not to experiment with ingesting bleach, UV light or isopropyl alcohol. “To be clear: Intracavitary UV light and swallowing bleach or isopropyl alcohol can kill you,” New York emergency medicine physician Dara Kass tweeted. “Don’t do it.”
“I certainly wouldn’t recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Anderson Cooper after Thursday’s briefing.
One of the most public faces of Trump’s health response to the virus, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, also avoided speaking much about the findings during the briefing. When Trump tried to bring her into a question “about the heat and the light,” and the virus, Birx said she hadn’t contemplated it “as a treatment,” and talked about fever instead helping the body respond.
The emphasis on the impact of heat on the virus came a day after Trump dominated the early part of his briefing by criticizing a Washington Post story that discussed the dire impact another wave of the virus could have on the country if it’s paired alongside winter flu season.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Post.
Trump appeared enraged over the story during Wednesday’s briefing, bringing Redfield to the podium to correct it.
“You could have some embers of corona, and you could have a big flu system,” Trump said Wednesday. “And if they combine, if they come together...it’s not great. But we will not go through what we went through for the last two months.”
The president devolved into attacking the press during Thursday’s briefing as he was pressed with questions over the sunlight presentation.
When a Post reporter asked Trump if it was dangerous to push people to think it was safe to head out into the heat—even as people die in warmer areas.
“Here we go, the new headline is Trump asks people to go outside that's dangerous. Here we go, same old group,” Trump said. “You ready. I hope people enjoy the sun and if it has an impact that's great.”
Pressed further, Trump said he was the president and the reporter asking him a fair question was “fake news.”
“It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab, by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant man,” Trump said. “He’s talking about sun. He’s talking about heat and you see the numbers. So that’s it. That's all I have. I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas because we want ideas to get rid of this thing.”