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A clip of Dr. Deborah Birx went viral Thursday, showing the White House coronavirus response coordinator looking pained as she listened to President Donald Trump wonder if sunlight exposure and injecting the human body with disinfectants could be used to combat COVID-19.
Trump made the remarks — which are not backed by science and have been decried as wildly dangerous by medical professionals and even disinfectant manufacturers — at a press conference Thursday.
The president attempted to walk back his comments on Friday, saying he was being sarcastic when he made the claims. "I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen," he said Friday.
In fact, video of the press conference clearly showed Trump asking Birx, a renowned virus expert with decades of government experience, to investigate if some of the treatments were feasible.
On Thursday evening, following a presentation by William Bryan, the undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, about the effect of solar light, bleach, and isopropyl alcohol on the coronavirus, Trump suggested scientists should study if these methods could be used on humans.
"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it," Trump said. "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. It sounds interesting."
Birx, sitting on the sidelines, reacted with visible discomfort as the president touted these unscientific theories.
Video footage showed her staring at the president before inhaling deeply and staring at the ground.
"And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute," Trump also said. "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 would be interesting to check that. So, that— You’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.
"But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s — that’s pretty powerful," Trump said.
Later in the press conference, Trump sparred with a reporter who asked if his comments about heat and humidity could be considered dangerous and lead people to believe going outside is safe.
"Here we go. The new — the new headline is: 'Trump Asks People to Go Outside. That’s Dangerous.' Here we go. Same old group," he said.
"You ready? I hope people enjoy the sun. And if it has an impact, that’s great," he said.
Trump then asked Birx to "speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure" and if she'd ever heard of "the heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?"
The visibly uncomfortable doctor said she'd never heard of it "as a treatment."
"When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as— I’ve not seen heat," she said.
"I think it’s a great thing to look at," Trump told her.
This particular interaction was incorrect in the White House's first transcript of the press conference, which said that Birx had told the president that light and heat "was a treatment."
The administration released a second transcript with her actual response.
On Friday, Trump said he wasn't being serious when he suggested that disinfectant injections could cure COVID-19.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said the media had taken Trump out of context.
"President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing," she said in a Friday statement.
The American Chemistry Council says bleach and disinfectants should never be ingested or injected into the body.
"Chlorine bleach is critical to combating the spread of COVID-19 as it effectively disinfects surfaces that inactivate the virus SARS-CoV-2," the industry group said in a statement. "However, chlorine bleach should never be administered inside the body under any circumstances."
Despite the president's protestations that he didn't mean what he'd said, Birx's reaction from Thursday's press conference was the subject of several memes and viral tweets.