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Donald Trump, a businessman by training and trade, floated more trial medical balloons on Thursday night – repeatedly suggesting disinfectant be injected into the bodies of humans to cure coronavirus patients while doubling down on his claims that sunlight kills the deadly virus.
“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 his daily Covid-19 briefing. A senior health official, under questioning from reporters, later said federal laboratories are not considering or trying to develop such a treatment option.
Mr Trump continued to launch trial balloons, some of which catch on with his core supporters and others that can cause a ruckus for several hours before fading from the public consciousness.
“You see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number [on the] lungs, so it would be interesting to check that,” he said, appearing to refer to the disinfectant idea. “We’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it seems interesting to me.”
The president, appearing to go off his prepared opening remarks, made this declaration: “We’re very close to a vaccine.”
But Anthony Fauci, his top infectious disease official, has said such a drug will be in development for up to 18 months. He has told the president in public meetings that one full year from the start of vaccine development, which began in March, would be the fastest one could be safely deployed.
Mr Fauci told CBS News earlier this year it could be possible to “shave” a few months off the development of a vaccine, but he cautioned against giving scientific processes too little time to ensure a drug would work and be safe.
Trump vs Fauci
The president and his top infectious disease official had another public disagreement come into public view during the Thursday evening briefing. This time, it was over testing following Mr Fauci saying in an interview that the United States needs to “significantly” ramp up its testing for the virus.
“No, I don’t agree with him on that. I think we are doing a grab job on testing,” Mr Trump told reporters. “If he said that, I don’t agree with him.”
That came after Mr Fauci told Time that “we need to significantly ramp up not only the number of tests, but the capacity to perform them, so that you don’t have a situation where you have a test but it can’t be done because there isn’t a swab, or because there isn’t extraction media, or not the right vial”, adding: “I am not overly confident right now, at all, that we have what it takes to do that. We are doing better, and I think we are going to get there, but we are not there yet.”
But hours later, Mr Trump repeated his glowing assessment of his administration’s record on Covid-19 testing kits – even though Democratic congressional leaders, some Democratic governors in hard-hit states, and even some GOP state leaders are still begging him to do more to get more testing units into their hands.
“We’re doing very well on testing,” the president said. “We’ve tested far more than anyone else in the world and within a short period of time.”
Public health officials say the US is testing about 150,000 people per day; they estimate that figure needs to be closer to 500,000 each day.
‘Not as a treatment’
Echoing more vague comments from the president minutes earlier, the vice president, Mike Pence, announced there is “encouraging” news about how “heat and sunlight” affect coronavirus.
William Bryan, a senior Homeland Security official, said a recent study showed summer-level solar waves can slash an 18-hour half life for Covid-19 into a 1-hour half life.
“Solar light” has an effect of “killing the virus”, Mr Bryan said. “In summary ... the virus in droplets in salvia survives best in indoor, dry conditions ... It dies the quickest in the presence of sunlight.”
But Deborah Birx, one of Mr Trump’s coronavirus task force members, disagreed that the sun’s rays could be used to help virus victims, saying: “Not as a treatment.”
The president said earlier this year he expected the virus would dissipate under the spring’s warmer temperatures; Mr Trump was incorrect, and the virus continues to spread, now to rural areas that were initially mostly Covid-free.
One former federal official seemed astonished by Mr Trump’s latest bold claims.
“We have to do this with science. If the president thinks that tanning beds are going to cure the coronavirus, he’s mistaken, Jonathan Reiner, a George W Bush White House medical official told CNN after the president’s briefing wrapped.
After bashing Democrats for, in his words, “playing politics” surrounding the virus, the GOP president called it “interesting” that the hardest hit states are “blue” ones.
He went after the former vice president Joe Biden, his presumptive Democratic general election foe, saying he is “in his basement” and “not moving around too much”, but getting a “free pass” from media outlets. Mr Trump appeared to suggest Mr Biden is unable to be mobile – even though the Democratic nominee is abiding by travel restrictions and a state stay-at-home order.
Where the president has this week declared the virus soon will subside, without providing scientific data to support the claim, Mr Pence on Thursday even was more qualified.
He told reporters, if current trends hold and Americans keep participating in safety measures, the country “could be” back to normal by “early summer”. At another moment, he said administration officials have “confidence” about the summer months.