Cure it with bleach? Trump sets off a public health scramble
Public health officials and private companies have been frantically trying to tell the public not to ingest or inject disinfectants after President Trump, during his daily news conference on Thursday, suggested that an “injection inside” the human body with a disinfectant such as bleach or isopropyl alcohol could help combat the virus.
His comments (a clip of the video is embedded in this article) prompted an outcry from health officials, doctors and lawmakers. The maker of Lysol warned that “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”
Mr. Trump took no questions from reporters — a highly unusual move — at today’s daily White House virus briefing, which was one of the shortest yet. But asked earlier about the comments, the president said he wasn’t serious. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
In fact, the president’s statement was made unprompted to William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, following a presentation about the effectiveness of bleach and other disinfectants, as well as ultraviolet light, in killing the coronavirus on surfaces.
Bleach and disinfectants are extremely toxic if swallowed or deeply inhaled. A recent uptick in calls to poison centers suggests that even before the president’s comments, people were misusing disinfectants as they cleaned their homes.
Not a first. The president has advanced other ideas during the crisis that medical experts say could be dangerous to public health. For weeks, the president promoted the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a “game changer” — in conflict with the advice of some top health officials and despite a lack of evidence that they work against the coronavirus.
Today the F.D.A. issued a warning that the drugs could cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients and “in some cases death.” The F.D.A. said the drugs should be used only in clinical trials or under supervision in hospitals.
A possible bright spot. New evidence suggests that ultraviolet light can indeed slow the virus, but only by degrading its life span on surfaces (not within the human body, as Mr. Trump also suggested on Thursday).
Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that ultraviolet rays could help lower Covid-19 rates, though not enough to wipe out the virus entirely. The study projected that the disease would decrease in the summer, and then return in the fall, though the researchers said that uncertainty around the study’s projected outcomes “remains high.”
After enduring years of derision and snark, the denizens of Silicon Valley who stockpiled essentials for an apocalyptic future are feeling vindicated.
“Properly masked and drenched in Purell, they are railing against a tech press that they feel mocked them as late as February for reducing travel and not shaking hands,” writes Nellie Bowles, a Times reporter who covers tech and internet culture from San Francisco.
They’re making Covid-related start-up investments. They have a blog called The Prepared, with features like “Prepping Checklist for Beginners.”
After watching these so-called rational preppers for years, Nellie became one herself in January, swayed by The Prepared’s argument that prepping for a health crisis early could mean fewer patients need health care resources later.
“The moment you started prepping for the coronavirus crisis is now perhaps the hottest credential in Silicon Valley,” she writes.
Tech creators are practiced in hunting for opportunities in disruption, and are busy doing so now. But with so much of what remains of the American economy accruing to their services, from fitness trackers to streaming to delivery apps, they also see a new danger, Nellie writes: greater inequality that could lead to revolution-level social strife.
If more people have had the virus, it means that its death rate is lower. That’s just math. We have a decent idea of how many people have died from the virus. If the total pool of people who have had it is larger than the early estimates suggested, the chances that any individual patient will die from it are, by definition, smaller — closer to about 0.5 percent on average, instead of 3 or 4 percent, as initially seemed possible.
But as I spent some time talking to public health experts this week, my optimism faded. The new statistics still suggest that the overall death toll could be catastrophic, and on the high end of the range of the various statistical models.
How could that be? There are two main reasons.
One, the fact that more people may have already had the virus also suggests that it’s more contagious than the initial numbers suggested — that any one person with the virus tends to pass it to a greater number of others. And if it’s more contagious, it may be harder to contain in coming months. As society begins to reopen, the virus could spread more quickly. The number of Americans who get it before a vaccine is developed would then be larger.
Two, even if the death rate is lower than feared, it’s still very high. “It is still, with these new findings, many times more deadly than influenza,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemic researcher at Johns Hopkins University, told me. The best current guess is that the death rate for coronavirus is about five times higher than that of seasonal influenza.
A few basic calculations show how scary a 0.5 percent death rate is. If about one in three Americans ultimately get the virus — or 110 million people — more than 500,000 would die. If 200 million people get it, 1 million would die.
Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania told me the latest news “doesn’t make any of the goals you want to reach easier.”
What you can do
Clean up. Here’s a guide to making and working with sprays, wipes and a bleach-based solution to clean surfaces of the pathogen.
Eat a balanced diet. A poor diet can contribute to risk of illness and death from the coronavirus. Improving your metabolic health can help.
Be a great teacher. If you’re home schooling children, you may be running out of ideas on how to keep them engaged. Here’s an extensive list of lessons from museums, libraries, zoos and federal agencies.
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What you’re doing
In hopes of normalizing the home school experience, we started a “community homeroom” Zoom meeting with seven other families. The kids range from pre-K to 10th grade. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, do a weather report, a segment called “This Day in History!”, share any general news and finish with a joke of the day. It is messy and short and loud and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
— Megan Mitchell, Princeton, N.J.
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