President Trump on Thursday once again sparked a backlash with comments he made during a White House briefing on the federal coronavirus response, when he wondered aloud whether it would be possible to use disinfectant to treat patients.
The suggestions were immediately shot down by doctors and manufacturers of cleaning products.
But the episode highlighted the controversial president’s broken relationship with facts and science. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the president has more than once misinformed an American public desperate for guidance.
Here are five times Trump sowed confusion or spread misinformation about the coronavirus:
1) He suggested light and disinfectant could be used to treat coronavirus patients
After a Department of Homeland Security official’s presentation showing that virus particles are weakened by sunlight and humidity and handily eliminated by disinfectants such as bleach and isopropyl alcohol, Trump questioned whether light and disinfectants could also be a treatment for patients.
“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that 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,” Trump said Thursday during a coronavirus task force briefing.
“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,” he continued.
On Friday morning, the maker of Lysol issued a statement that “under no circumstance” should its disinfectant products be introduced into the human body, through injection, ingestion or any other route.
2) He repeatedly hyped an unproven drug to treat coronavirus patients
President Trump has been pushing the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, and has referenced it at least 40 times by name in recent weeks, according to the website Factba.se, which tracks Trump’s statements, interviews, and tweets.
In some cases, Trump aggressively pushed the drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, despite notes of caution from government health experts. In a March 21 tweet, Trump said the drug, in combination with an antibiotic, had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine" and urged federal health agencies to “MOVE FAST” in putting the drug into use immediately.
Trump also assured Fox News viewers during an appearance on Fox News on April 7 that the drug was generally safe.
“One thing that we do see is that people are not going to die from it. So if somebody is in trouble, you take it, I think,” he said.
The FDA on Friday warned Americans against widespread use of the drug, citing “serious heart rhythm problems," and said it should only be used for patients who are carefully monitored in a hospital setting or as part of a clinical trial.
3) Trump suggested social distancing measures could be worse than the coronavirus itself
Arguing that the social distancing measures enacted by state governments across the country should be lifted, Trump last month suggested the “cure” of social distancing could lead to more deaths than the virus itself.
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
“There’ll be tremendous repercussions,” Trump said on March 23 of extended lockdown measures. “There will be a tremendous death from that. Death. You know, you’re talking about death. Probably more death from that than anything that we’re talking about with respect to the virus.”
Trump suggested there would be an increase in suicide and other problems stemming from a stalled economy. To be sure, the economic pain caused by the coronavirus has been devastating, with millions of people suddenly out of work and struggling to make ends meet.
But despite aggressive social distancing measures, more than 50,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus since January, and earlier this month it overtook cancer as the second-leading cause of death, with only heart disease killing more people, according to a Washington Post analysis. In places where the coronavirus has hit hard, like New York City, the virus is by far the leading cause of death.
4) The virus could go away when the weather warms up
Trump said the coronavirus could disappear when the weather warms up, in the same way the seasonal flu recedes in the summer months in the northern hemisphere.
“The virus, they’re working hard, looks like by April you know in theory when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true," Trump said at a February rally in Manchester, N.H.
Trump has continued to suggest heat could play a role in slowing the transmission of the virus, including on Thursday, when the Department of Homeland Security official presented new findings that the coronavirus weakens when exposed to light, heat, and humidity.
But as the Globe reported Friday, experts say it’s unlikely the virus will retreat over the summer.
“We all hope that if we can’t do something about it before June, that it all disappears on its own,” said David Walt, a pathology professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Globe Friday. “But all indications from other parts of the world suggest otherwise.”
5) Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, comparing it with the flu
President Trump has vacillated on the severity of the novel coronavirus, early on comparing it to the flu to suggest strict social distancing measures are an overreaction.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
“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,” he said during a Fox News interview on March 24. "But we’ve never closed down the country for the flu.”
By the end of March, Trump seemed to change his mind, citing a friend who was hospitalized with the virus, and later died.
“But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious,” Trump said during a White House briefing March 31. “When you send a friend to the hospital, and you call up to find out how is he doing — it happened to me, where he goes to the hospital, he says goodbye. He’s sort of a tough guy. A little older, a little heavier than he’d like to be, frankly. And you call up the next day: ‘How’s he doing?’ And he’s in a coma? This is not the flu.”
Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, has urged Americans not to compare the current coronavirus pandemic to the flu.
“I mean, people always say, well, the flu does this, the flu does that,” Fauci said during a congressional hearing earlier this month. “The flu has a mortality of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this."