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Trump veers into medical fantasy at his coronavirus briefing

President Donald Trump at the White House briefing

President Donald Trump at the White House briefing Thursday. Credit: EPA / Michael Reynolds

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

Bringing heat, light and bleach

When he's not bashing critics, the media, unhappy governors or assorted political foes, President Donald Trump sometimes uses his daily coronavirus briefings to offer his personal medical theories. He has added disclaimers such as "What do I know? I’m not a doctor." Those are important words to keep in mind.

After inviting William Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, to describe experiments looking at conditions that might shorten the life of the virus, Trump wondered aloud on Thursday whether an “injection” of disinfectant could help an infected person. 

"I see the disinfectant that 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," the president said during the briefing, speaking to his health officials. "As you see it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that." 

Or because Bryan said emerging data indicates the virus deteriorates in sunlight, how about this? "So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light … supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way," the president said.

Trump seemed to be looking for partial vindication of his tragically mistaken comments in February on coronavirus "that it looks like by April, you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away." Alluding to the ridicule that ensued, Trump said Thursday: “I once mentioned that maybe it does go with heat and light, and people didn’t like that statement very much.”

As for his treatment ideas, here's the verdict from experts: Don't listen to Trump. “This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous," said Dr. Vin Gupta, an NBC News contributor. USA Today reports that Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at The George Washington University Hospital, said, "Tanning beds are not the solution." Dr. Dara Kass, a New York emergency medicine physician, tweeted, "To be clear: Intracavitary UV light and swallowing bleach or isopropyl alcohol can kill you. It’s a common method that people utilize when they want to kill themselves."

Bryan cautioned that despite his early findings, heat and humidity alone wouldn't kill the virus threat if people don't continue to practice social distancing. When Trump looked to bring Dr. Deborah Birx, his coronavirus response coordinator, into a discussion about the heat and light, she replied she hadn’t contemplated it “as a treatment.” Trump was undeterred. "Maybe you can, maybe you can’t … I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what," he said, pointing to his head.

Trump turns against New York again

New York officials sent a chorus of contempt to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for suggesting that bankruptcy is a better solution than federal aid for states whose budgets have been ravaged by the pandemic.

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), in a speech on the House floor, called McConnell (R-Ky.) the “Grim Reaper” who is telling “my state and others to drop dead.” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said, “It’s not a giveaway when it’s a hurricane, a flood or a tornado in Kentucky or the states adjacent to Mitch McConnell.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo used a significant portion of his daily briefing to blast McConnell for “one of the really dumb ideas of all time.” He called McConnell’s labeling it a “blue-state bailout” particularly galling — considering at least 15,000 New Yorkers have died, the highest toll of any state, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.

Trump, who voiced openness to the aid before and after his White House meeting with Cuomo, went wobbly and echoed McConnell's casting of the question in partisan terms.

“New York and New Jersey were in a lot of trouble long before the plague came,” Trump said. “It is interesting that the states that are in trouble do happen to be blue,” he added. The head of the National Governors Association, which has led the fight for more money, is a Republican, Larry Hogan of Maryland.

$484 billion package clears Congress

Trump said he quickly will sign a $484 billion interim coronavirus spending package to fund a small business program, health care providers, and virus testing and contact tracing.

The House passed it by 388-5 in an extraordinary session Thursday, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. Lawmakers voted in shifts to practice social distancing, and many wore protective masks.

The vote came after the announcement that another 4.4 million people applied for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to more than 26 million who have lost their jobs during the economic shutdown in the effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus, which has cost more than 47,000 lives in the U.S.

The latest measure will bring total coronavirus epidemic federal spending to $2.5 trillion. The House on a party-line vote approved setting up a select committee to oversee the spending.

Janison: Truth an underdog vs. power

Absent scientific research backing his promotion of a malaria drug to fight coronavirus, Trump pointed to his "common sense" and asked, "What do you have to lose?" Credible professionals of all kinds in the administration who push back at Trump's gut-driven hunches with the use of facts end up in the risky role of whistleblower, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Nonpartisan national security experts were crucial in debunking Trump's assertions about alleged Ukraine conspiracies with Democrats. Law enforcement investigators ended up knocking down some exotic pro-Trump "theories" about Russian election meddling. Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, ex-commander of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, was relieved after word spread of his concern about the danger coronavirus was posing to his crew.

In this context comes the demotion of Dr. Rick Bright, who says he was wrongfully ousted as director of the federal agency overseeing the development of a coronavirus vaccine. He said he was resisting "misguided directives" based on "politics and cronyism" that "puts lives at risk."

Still, believers in Trump and his product endorsements find it easy to accept that straitlaced professionals and regulators would hold back a magic bullet against the disease for shortsighted or nefarious reasons.

Getting a second opinion?

Trump loves the TV ratings for his daily coronavirus briefings, but that doesn't mean the audience is buying into what he's selling.

Just 28% of Americans say they’re regularly getting information from Trump about coronavirus, and only 23% say they have high levels of trust in what the president is telling the public, according to a new Associated Press-NORC poll.

Confidence in Trump is higher among his supporters, though only about half of Republicans say they have a lot of trust in Trump’s information. But an overwhelming majority of Republicans — 82% — say they still approve of how he’s doing his job. That’s helped keep the president’s overall approval rating steady at 42%.

Dismissed doc filing whistleblower action

Lawyers for Bright, the government scientist who was ousted from his post leading vaccine development, soon will file a whistleblower complaint, charging it was retaliation for his resistance to a drug touted by Trump as coronavirus treatment.

Bright’s lawyers also accused the Trump administration of making “demonstrably false statements” about him to deflect attention from the reason from his removal as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

“In our filing we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only — because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly,” the lawyers said. Trump wouldn't answer questions about Bright at his briefing.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s eldest brother died of COVID-19 earlier this week, she revealed Thursday. Don Reed Herring, 86, was a Vietnam War veteran who served for 20 years in the Air Force and flew 288 combat missions before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was not at Thursday's briefing, told Time magazine that "I am not overly confident right now at all" that the nation's coronavirus testing levels and capacity are where they need to be. Told of the remarks by his top infectious diseases expert, Trump said at the briefing, "No, I don't agree with him on that."
  • The new spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, deleted offensive tweets about Chinese people before starting at the job last week, CNN reported. He also tweeted that Democrats want millions to die in the pandemic. Caputo defended his past Twitter behavior, saying he was "a defender of the president" tweeting in a "spirited manner."
  • Stephen Moore, an outside Trump economic adviser who advocates loosening stay-at-home rules, mused in a New York Times interview: "Why don’t we just put everybody in a space outfit or something like that?" He wasn't kidding.
  • The Treasury Department is considering imposing tough terms on an emergency coronavirus loan to the U.S. Postal Service. Those conditions would fulfill Trump’s longtime aim of changing how the service does business, The Washington Post reports. One of Trump's goals is to raise USPS rates for package shipping by Amazon, which is led by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Post, which Trump despises.
  • Trump claimed at the briefing that Joe Biden is using the pandemic as an excuse not to debate him. The presumptive Democratic nominee said Wednesday: "I’m ready to debate him. Zoom or Skype or Slack or Hangouts or in person, anytime anywhere he wants." General election debates normally are held in the fall.

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