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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP) President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP)

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke April 24, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • During a coronavirus press briefing, President Trump floated the idea of using disinfectants and sunlight to treat COVID-19 patients. 

  • Trump has since walked back those remarks, and several websites and social media posts have taken them out of context.

  • The briefing transcript shows that Trump did not say people should inject themselves with bleach or alcohol to treat the coronavirus. He was asking officials on the White House coronavirus task force whether they could be used in potential cures.

President Donald Trump is walking back what he said during an April 23 coronavirus press briefing about using disinfectants to treat COVID-19 patients. 

"I was asking a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside," he said during a briefing in the Oval Office on April 24. "But it does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands, and that would make things much better. That was done in the form of a sarcastic question to the reporters."

The president first posed the question April 23 after William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, presented a study that found sun exposure and cleaning agents like bleach have an adverse effect on the coronavirus. Bryan was referring to the use of disinfectants on surfaces and in aerosols, but Trump asked whether the chemicals could be used in a potential COVID-19 treatment, as well.

Some websites and social media users took that question to mean the president was recommending people inject themselves with bleach or isopropyl alcohol, an ingredient in hand sanitizer. But others said Trump meant something very different — that doctors could investigate whether using sunlight or disinfectants could clear the virus in patients.

Regardless, Trump’s remarks caused some companies and state agencies to issue warnings about ingesting disinfectants. The maker of Lysol said in a statement that "under no circumstance" should its products be used in the human body.

Given the confusion over what Trump said during the briefing, we wanted to check the transcript to get the full context.

What Trump said about disinfectants

After Bryan’s presentation, Trump floated the idea of using disinfectants to treat COVID-19 patients. He did not say Americans should ingest chemicals to prevent or treat the virus.

Here’s the full context:

"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 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. (To Bryan) And I think you said you’re going to test that, too. Sounds interesting, right?"

"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. That’s pretty powerful."

Later, Trump clarified his comments after a reporter asked Bryan whether disinfectants could actually be injected into COVID-19 patients.

"It wouldn’t be through injections, almost a cleaning and sterilization of an area. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work, but it certainly has a big effect if it’s on a stationary object."

It’s not clear what part of that discussion he was characterizing as a "sarcastic question" to reporters.

What Trump said about sunlight

Bryan said the DHS study found that sunlight has an adverse effect on the coronavirus. So Trump asked whether there was some way to use sunlight in COVID-19 patients.

But as with his comments on disinfectants, the president stopped short of saying sunlight can cure the coronavirus. Here’s the full context:

Trump: "I hope people enjoy the sun, and if it has an impact, that’s great. I’m just hearing this, not really for the first time. I mean, there’s been a rumor, a very nice rumor, that you go outside in the sun or you have heat, and it does have an effect on other viruses. But now we get it from one of the great laboratories of the world, I have to say. Covers a lot more territory than just this. This is probably an easy thing, relatively speaking, for you. 

"I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure. You know? If you could? And maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m a person that has a good… You know what. Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?"

Dr. Deborah Birx: "Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But, I’ve not seen heat or light as a —"

Trump: "I think that’s a great thing to look at. OK?"

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In Context: What Donald Trump said about disinfectant, sun and coronavirus