President Trump actually suggested injecting disinfectant to cure coronavirus. On its face, this statement is so incendiary and dangerous that it demands dissection. What did he actually say, in what context, and what did he mean?
The president says many batshit things which, on closer examination, appear to be just rambling of some kind which, taken out of context, make him appear to be crazy, mean, or disoriented. (I’m not saying he’s not these things — I’m saying that media, pundits, and memes take the worst of these and amplify them to make him appear totally bonkers.)
The context and the statement on disinfectants
What was the context for this comment? During yesterday’s daily press briefing on the virus, Bill Bryan, a science and technology official in the Department of Homeland Security, briefed people on experiments that have shown that sunlight and disinfectants can reduce the lifespan and potency of the virus on surfaces. For example, he said “We’ve tested bleach, we’ve tested isopropyl alcohol on the virus specifically in saliva or in respiratory fluids and I can tell you that bleach will kill the virus in five minutes. Isopropyl alcohol will kill the virus in 30 seconds and that’s with no manipulation, no rubbing. Just bring it on and leaving it go. You rub it and it goes away even faster.” (He was not advocating putting these poisonous substances in your mouth, he was explaining how disinfectants can kill the virus carried in droplets of saliva.)
Here’s what Trump said, verbatim from a transcript by rev.com. Commentary is mine.
A question that probably some of you are thinking of if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposedly when 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. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting, right?
No scientist has suggested putting people on tanning beds to treat coronavirus. I don’t know any way to get light inside the body. And there is no evidence that UV or other lights inside the body would kill the virus inside the body. Radiation of that kind also increases cancer risk; that’s why we wear sunscreen. There have been widespread cases in Australia and Singapore, in hot sunny climates. So this is just the President making things up based on no knowledge or evidence.
And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in 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 it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me. So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute.
Disinfectant kills virus on surfaces. Such substances are poisonous, not only to viruses, but to our own cells. This is why we don’t ingest bleach or inject Lysol into ourselves. (The makers of Lysol went so far as to post information on their site explaining that you should never ingest it, because it is poisonous.)
Trump’s statement sounds loony, but when you look closely into it, it’s actually . . . just as loony as it sounds. There’s no evidence that substances that kill viruses on surfaces could be used within the body, or that such applications would be safe.
Trump’s desire to latch onto anything at all hopeful about the virus is dangerous. He has no particular knowledge that is helpful with ideas for treatment. He’s not a doctor or scientist. He’s making shit up. He doesn’t say “this works,” he says “sounds interesting,” and “it’d be interesting to check that.”
This isn’t the first time. Trump did exactly the same thing with promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine, which turned out to do no good, but increased death rates. Trump said “what have you got to lose,” but his comments not only failed to help patients, but created a shortage of the drug for those who need it, like lupus sufferers.
So, to sum up:
- The context is a discussion of what can kill the virus outside the body.
- Based on what he heard in that context, Trump invented treatments no one has actually proposed.
- What Trump suggested was more likely to kill people than work.
- There is no reason to believe he has any knowledge in this area worth paying attention to.
- The President of the United States is spreading made up bullshit in a crisis.
It is hardly possible to be a worse leader than this. We can have a serious discussion about how to reopen the economy and public places. We can have a serious discussion about death rates and treatments. We can discuss herd immunity. But all such discussions have to start with facts and analysis. It’s hard to see how we can take any of this seriously when the president just makes shit up based on a misunderstanding of the science.
Go ahead. Explain what I got wrong here. I’m listening . . .
Update: Trump has tried two outs on these ignorant comments. He claimed they were sarcastic. Listen to the video — there’s no hint of sarcasm. And his team claims the remarks were taken out of context. As I’ve shown in this post, the context is clear, and the meaning is exactly what you’ve been hearing. Neither explanation is credible.
(Here’s the video of what Trump said.)