Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday that he “can’t really explain” President Donald Trump’s public speculation last week about using disinfectant as a treatment for COVID-19, but he advised the president to make sure his news conferences on the coronavirus are “fact-based.”
Hogan, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors Association, said on ABC News’ “This Week” that from the beginning of the outbreak, it had been important to him that officials communicate “very clearly on the facts because people listen to these press conferences.”
“They listen when the governor holds a press conference and they certainly pay attention when the president of the United States is standing there giving a press conference about something as serious as this worldwide pandemic,” Hogan said. “And I think when misinformation comes out or you just say something that pops in your head, it does send a wrong message.”
On Thursday, Trump invited Bill Bryan, undersecretary of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, to brief White House reporters about a study that found the coronavirus did not survive long when exposed to sunlight or disinfectants. After the presentation, Trump pondered the possibility of introducing disinfectants or ultraviolet light into the human body to kill the virus.
The idea prompted alarm from health experts and drew immediate social media mockery. Disinfectant manufacturers Clorox and Lysol issued statements reminding people it was unsafe to ingest their products.
Hogan said that following Trump’s remarks, Maryland saw “hundreds of calls come into our emergency hotline at our health department asking if it was right to ingest Clorox or alcohol cleaning products – whether that was going to help them fight the virus.”
“So, we had to put out that warning to make sure that people were not doing something like that, which would kill people actually to do it.”
Hogan advised Trump to “stick to a message and make sure that these press conferences are fact-based.”
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On Friday, Trump said “of course” people should not ingest cleaning products. He said his remarks about had been a “very sarcastic” question to a reporter. But he was clearly addressing Bryan and White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, and comments did not appear to be an attempt at humor.
Birx said Trump had just been digesting the new information about the coronavirus in front of a live audience. And White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the news media had “irresponsibly” taken Trump’s remarks “out of context,” though the entire exchange was widely distributed on social media and replayed frequently on cable news.
At the briefing, Birx said ultraviolet light and disinfectants were not treatments for the coronavirus – a fact the White House had to correct in an updated version of the transcript. On Sunday, she told CNN, “when he turned to me, I made it clear, and he understood that this was not a treatment.”
She said when Trump made the comment, “he was having a dialogue between the DHS scientist and himself.”
Birx said it was “unfortunate” that the DHS study “got lost in there” with the fixation on Trump’s remarks because it was “critically important for the American people” to know that sunlight can impact the virus. She said that could mean a reduced chance of transmission when people are speaking and could determine how environments can be decontaminated moving forward.
When asked if it bothered her having to address the potential dangers posed by the president’s comments, Birx said, “Well, I think it bothers me that this is still in the news cycle.”
“I think I have made it clear that this was a musing,” Birx said. “But I want us to move on to be able to get information to the American people that can help them protect each other.”
Before the speculation about light and disinfectant, Trump had been criticized for touting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer” in treating COVID-19 patients before clinical trials were complete. “What you have you got to lose?” the president said of trying hydroxychloroquine as a treatment at an April 4 White House briefing.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying, “Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.” It cautioned against their use “outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.”
After the fallout from Thursday’s briefing, reports surfaced that Trump might stop holding the task force briefings, or at least stop attending them, as advisers told him it was doing more political harm than good. The president appeared to confirm those reports in a tweet Saturday in which he lashed out at the coverage of the briefings.
“What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately,” he wrote. “They get record ratings, & the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time & effort!”
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When asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” if he thought Trump should stop holding the briefings because of the threat posed by misinformation, Hogan said, “having briefings to inform the public of what’s going on is important” and, “I’d hate to see that stop. He said he hoped future news conferences would be like the one held Friday, where Trump allowed public health experts to do much of the talking and he did not take questions from reporters.
“Perhaps that’s indicating a different strategy,” Hogan said. “And I think maybe some of his advisers are suggesting that maybe a different communication policy might be more helpful.”
Birx also hoped the briefings would continue.
“I think that communication to communities is essential, because a knowledgeable community is a protected community,” she told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” anchor Maria Bartiromo. “And I think we understand that those messages of science and policy need to continue to be brought forward to the American people in a non-political way.”