Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care March. 26, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP) President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care March. 26, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP)

President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care March. 26, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP)

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht March 28, 2024

Biden exaggerates Trump’s pandemic comments about disinfectants, UV light

If Your Time is short

  • Biden said Trump "told Americans all they had to do was inject bleach in themselves. Just take a shot of UV light."
  • Biden was referring to comments Trump made in 2020 about potential treatments for COVID-19, which were roundly criticized.
  • However, Trump didn’t explicitly tell Americans to inject or "take a shot" of anything.

During a speech in North Carolina this week, President Joe Biden misrepresented comments by former President Donald Trump about potential treatments for COVID-19.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Chavis Park in Raleigh to speak about their efforts to expand access to affordable healthcare. Biden said Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows he can’t be trusted to protect American lives.

"Four years ago this month we saw how my predecessor didn't care much about science and reason," Biden said Tuesday, noting that more than 1 million Americans died during the pandemic.

"Trump didn’t level with the American people," Biden said. "He told Americans all they had to do was inject bleach in themselves, remember that? Not a joke, you think I am making this up. Just take a real shot of UV light."

Biden made similar remarks at a fundraiser after his speech.

The White House confirmed that Biden was referring to Trump’s comments during an April 23, 2020, press briefing — six weeks after the World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak was a global pandemic.

The spread of COVID-19 prompted government officials to issue stay-at-home advisories and shutdowns as scientists and healthcare workers rushed to develop vaccines and life-saving treatments. At a time when Americans looked to the White House for specific advice for combating COVID-19, Trump went off-script, riffing on how disinfectants and ultraviolet rays might be used against the virus.

The Trump administration invited William Bryan, who was undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, to the White House to publicly share his team’s observations about the virus’ survival under certain conditions. 

Bryan said sun exposure and cleaning agents such as bleach can kill COVID-19 when it is on surfaces and in the air, but his comments created confusion. At one point during Bryan’s presentation, he used the word "inject" while talking about introducing ultraviolet light into a scenario where the virus lay on a surface. 

"Door handles, stainless steel, and if you look at as the temperature increases as the humidity increases with no sun involved, you can see how drastically the half-life goes down on that virus," Bryan said. "So, the virus is dying at a much more rapid pace just from exposure to higher temperatures and just from exposure to humidity."

"If you look at the fourth line," Bryan said, referring to test results displayed on a slideshow.

"You inject the sunlight into that, you inject UV rays into that, the same effects on line two as 70 to 75 degrees with 80% humidity on the surface and, look at line four, but now you inject the sun, the half-life goes from six hours to two minutes," he said. "That’s how much of an impact UV rays has on the virus."

Trump took the mic and asked Bryan several questions about his findings — making comments that have been roundly criticized by scientists and medical experts as misleading and ill-informed. 

Trump’s statements were confusing, but a look at his exact words shows that Trump didn’t specifically instruct Americans to "inject bleach" or "take a shot" of ultraviolet light to prevent COVID-19. He did, however, inquire about whether UV light and disinfectant could be studied inside the human body.

Featured Fact-check

Here are Trump’s full comments:

"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. 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."

To summarize: Trump expressed interest in studying whether it’s possible to bring ultraviolet light "inside the body … through the skin or in some other way" and whether disinfectant could be used against the virus "by injection." 

Responding to a reporter’s question moments later, Bryan clarified that researchers didn’t study any injection methods. "We don’t do that within that lab at our labs," Bryan said.

Trump appeared to understand Bryan’s clarification, telling the reporter: "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."

Trump’s comments led to confusion as multiple news outlets reported Trump’s words on disinfectants and UV rays as though Trump was suggesting they could be used as a treatment. 

The next day, Trump and his press secretary said people were misinterpreting Trump’s comments. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump had repeatedly said that "Americans should consult with medical doctors." In an exchange with reporters, Trump said he was suggesting disinfectants and UV rays could be used on hands and that, when he spoke about injections, he was being "sarcastic."

Still, some companies and state agencies issued 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.

This is not the first time Biden has criticized Trump’s comments from that 2020 press conference. Three months after Trump’s statements, Biden accused Trump of saying that drinking bleach could help fight the coronavirus. We rated that claim Mostly False.

Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign’s press secretary, said Biden’s latest comment is intentionally misleading.

"It's more misinformation and lies from President Biden," Leavitt told WRAL-TV in an interview on Tuesday. "He continues to utilize the statistics and data from the worst of the COVID crisis to try and paint (an) unfair negative reality about President Trump's time in the White House."

Our ruling

Biden said Trump "told Americans all they had to do was inject bleach in themselves. Just take a shot of UV light."

During a nationally-televised press conference, Trump publicly floated the idea of studying whether bringing UV rays "inside the body" could help treat the coronavirus and asked an adviser whether a "disinfectant" could be injected for the same purpose. 

But Trump didn’t specifically instruct Americans to do either of those things — and he and his press secretary attempted to clarify his words the next day.

Biden’s statement about Trump contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

WRAL state government reporter Will Doran contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Video, President Biden and Vice President Harris Deliver Remarks in Raleigh, NC on March 26, 2024.

Video from C-SPAN, "President Trump with Coronavirus Task Force Briefing," April 23, 2020.

WRAL, "Trailing in polls, Biden and Harris visit NC to talk health care and seek donations," March 26, 2024.

PolitiFact, "In Context: What Donald Trump said about disinfectant, sun and coronavirus," April 24, 2020; "No, Trump didn’t tell Americans infected with the coronavirus to drink bleach," July 11, 2020.

WRAL interview with Karoline Leavitt, press secretary for the Donald Trump campaign, on March 26, 2024. 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Paul Specht

Biden exaggerates Trump’s pandemic comments about disinfectants, UV light

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up