President Donald Trump is not a doctor, but he has lots of ideas about how to cure the coronavirus ― and they’re horrifying.
The White House holds daily press briefings about the work it’s doing to combat the coronavirus, which so far has killed more than 50,000 people in the United States.
On Thursday, Trump used this opportunity to speculate whether ultraviolet light and disinfectant ― in other words, sunlight and household cleaning products ― might be a cure.
White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx was sitting off to the side when Trump made this scientifically absurd suggestion, and her “oh, dear” reaction was caught on camera as she thought about what she could possibly say in response.
Trump has tried as hard as he can to pretend the coronavirus is not a crisis. He’s tried to ignore it, downplay it, suggested that perhaps the government should just let the illness wash over the country and kill people, and used it as an opportunity to push his political agenda. He’s also repeatedly suggested quick, ready-made solutions as cures, no matter how untested or lethal they might be.
Here are some of the things Trump has suggested will cure the coronavirus:
“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? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.” [4/24/20]
Sunlight does not cure coronavirus. Neither does a tanning bed. Medical experts have long warned against too much unprotected exposure to UV rays, which can cause skin cancer. No experts have linked UV light to curing coronavirus.
At Thursday’s press briefing, Trump asked Birx whether she agreed with him about sunlight as a cure.
“Not as a treatment,” she said trying not to completely put down the president, adding that “fever is a good thing” and “helps your body respond.”
But, she went on, “not as — I have not seen heat or ―”
“I think that’s a great thing to look at,” Trump jumped in, cutting her off.
“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 it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” [4/24/20]
Please do not put cleaning products into your body as a coronavirus cure.
RB, the makers of Lysol and Dettol, even put out a statement Friday morning imploring people not to ingest its cleaning products: “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”
“This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible, and it’s dangerous,” Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and global health policy expert, told NBC. “It’s a common method that people utilize when they want to kill themselves.”
On Friday, Trump claimed he was being sarcastic with his comments, although there was absolutely no indication that he was joking during the press briefing.
Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin
“HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” [3/21/20]
“The hydroxychloroquine and the Z-pack, I think, as a combination, probably, it’s looking very, very good.” [3/23/20]
“What do you have to lose? And a lot of people are saying that when — and are taking it — if you’re a doctor, a nurse, a first responder, a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it before the fact is good. But what do you have to lose? They say, ‘Take it.’ I’m not looking at it one way or the other, but we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early. But we have some very good signs. So that’s hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.” [4/5/20]
Trump has repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic, as potential miracle drugs for coronavirus. It’s very convenient ― pre-existing medications that just need to be used for a different group of patients. No need to wait months for a different vaccine!
But hydroxychloroquine has not been fully tested, and medical experts are uncomfortable with Trump promoting it as a cure.
Rick Bright, who led the federal agency in charge of coming up with a vaccine, recently said he was demoted from his job after pressing for more vetting of hydroxychloroquine, saying the administration had put “politics and cronyism ahead of science.”
A panel of experts put together by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has also warned against using the combination of drugs to treat coronavirus, because it appears to increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
For hydroxychloroquine alone, the panel said there was “insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against.”
Trump’s unscientific advice is getting noticed, and for one couple, it had deadly consequences. After hearing about the potential “cure” on TV last month, a couple in Arizona noticed that their fish tank cleaner also contained chloroquine. They took it, believing it would prevent them from getting COVID-19.
It immediately made them sick. The husband passed away, and the wife was in the hospital under critical care.
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” [2/28/20]
If the coronavirus disappears, it won’t just disappear on its own, like a miracle. It will disappear because of vaccines or because people observed scientifically relevant measures like social distancing.
“Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do ― you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat ― as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases ― 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” [2/10/20]
“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” [2/10/20]
“I really believe they are going to have it under control fairly soon. You know in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. And that’s a beautiful date to look forward to.” [2/10/20]
April is here, and the coronavirus pandemic is still raging. While some viruses are more widespread in colder months, no experts believe that the coronavirus will simply go away because the weather gets hotter.
“This is a very brilliant enemy. You know, it’s a brilliant enemy. They develop drugs like the antibiotics. You see it. Antibiotics used to solve every problem. Now one of the biggest problems the world has is the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.” [4/10/20]
The implication in Trump’s statement that the coronavirus has outsmarted antibiotics is that with a better antibiotic, everything would be fine.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, not viruses. The coronavirus is a virus.
Many coronavirus patients are being treated with antibiotics to treat secondary infections that result from the illness or hospitalization. But that does not mean they are a cure for COVID-19.
“You take a solid flu vaccine, you don’t think that would have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?” [3/2/20]
“We’ve had horrible flus. I mean, think of it. We average 36,000 people. Death, death. I’m not talking about cases. I’m talking about death. 36,000 deaths a year. People die, 36 — from the flu. But we’ve never closed down the country for the flu.” [3/24/20]
Early on, Trump frequently compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu, in an effort to downplay the virus. During a March 2 meeting with pharmaceutical executives, Trump asked whether the regular flu vaccine would work. They told him it would not.
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