Emergency hotlines in multiple states have reportedly received hundreds of calls from people asking about using disinfectant to counter the coronavirus after Trump openly wondered if it was a good idea at a press briefing.
It was a terrible idea, as health experts universally pointed out after the fact.
Nevertheless, the Republican governor of Maryland and the Democratic governor of Michigan say “hundreds” of people called state hotlines to ask about the idea, which Trump floated while attempting to guess a cure to COVID-19 last week.
Trump didn’t actually tell people to inject bleach — as many of his defenders have pointed out — but he did treat it as an idea worth legitimate investigation.
It is not a legitimate idea, but hundreds of Americans reportedly thought about it enough to give poison control a call over the weekend.
“I think when misinformation comes out or you just say something that pops into your head, it does send a wrong message,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“We had hundreds of calls come in to our emergency hotline at our health department asking if it was right to ingest Clorox or alcohol cleaning products, whether that was going to help them fight the virus,” he said.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency also tweeted a reminder not to ingest or inject disinfectant under any circumstances on Friday amid a surge in calls.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of Trump’s many Democratic targets on Twitter during the crisis, also reported an increase in calls after he made the remarks.
“When the person with the most powerful position on the planet is encouraging people to think about disinfectants, whether it was serious or not, people listen,” Whitmer told This Week.
“We have seen an increase in the numbers of people calling poison control, and so I think it’s really important that every one of us with a platform disseminate medically accurate information.”
Trump was in the middle of one of his daily press briefings last week when he started dreaming up potential solutions in front of reporters and Dr. Deborah Birx, the only real doctor in the room at the time.
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute,” Trump, who has no medical expertise, said at the White House briefing on Thursday. “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.”
Trump also wondered if the virus could be killed by exposing the body to heat or sunlight from the inside.
Health authorities and cleaning-product makers, including the company behind Lysol, quickly came out to warn against using disinfectant in any way on (or inside) the human body.
“This is one of the most dangerous and idiotic suggestions made so far in how one might actually treat COVID-19,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in Britain, told Reuters last week.
Many also ridiculed Trump on social media for his comments, which run contrary to what children typically learn in kindergarten.
Still, Trump supporters rushed to defend the comment, claiming that he didn’t say it, that no one would be stupid enough to try it or that he was playing some elaborate game to troll the media.
A White House spokesperson claimed on Friday that Trump’s remarks were taken out of context.
Trump later claimed that he was speaking “sarcastically” to bait reporters, although video clearly shows he was speaking directly to his coronavirus advisers, who were sitting apart from media at the briefing.
The president, who once looked at a solar eclipse without heeding medical advice to shield his eyes, refused to back down from his other theory about sunlight and the virus on Friday.
The president has frequently used the press briefings to boast about his own efforts, put down his political enemies, present overly optimistic forecasts or push dubious solutions to the pandemic, such as the anti-malaria drug known as hydroxychloroquine.
In 13 hours of speaking to the public, Trump spent about four-and-a-half minutes expressing condolences to the more than 50,000 Americans who have died in the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
Trump did not take questions at a truncated White House briefing on Friday, and he did not hold press briefings over the weekend. Instead, he spent much of the weekend — including wife Melania Trump’s birthday — rage-tweeting about the news and retweeting allies’ messages of support on Twitter.
Trump seemed to disavow the press briefings on Saturday, calling them a “waste of time.”
The White House announced on Monday that Trump would return for a briefing later in the day.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press