WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump touted a federal study Thursday that indicates sunlight and humidity can weaken the coronavirus – a finding that prompted the president to float the idea of treating patients with "light inside the body."
The Department of Homeland Security study, which the agency described as "emerging," found the lifespan of the virus on a surface or in the air could be significantly reduced by exposure to sunlight and humidity. But a top official with the department warned against Americans changing their behavior based on the preliminary findings.
"Our most striking observation to date is the powerful effect that solar light appears to have on killing the virus, both on surfaces and in the air," said Bill Bryan, an undersecretary of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security.
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Trump, who has used his daily White House briefings to float unproven treatment options in the past, at one point suggested the government should study bringing "light inside the body" as a possible treatment, which he asserted might be done "either through the skin or in some other way." The president also appeared to question whether disinfectant could be used to treat coronavirus patients.
"Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning," Trump said.
The president jumped between offering caveats about the significance of the study to suggest – possibly in jest – that he might spend more time outdoors, such as in the Rose Garden, to receive additional exposure to sunlight as the pandemic continues.
"I hope people enjoy the sun," Trump said. "And if it has an impact, that’s great."
Early studies have differed on the impact environmental factors such as sunlight have on the virus, and the DHS report is not the first to suggest a link. On the other hand, warmer states such as Louisiana and Florida have also witnessed sharp increases in coronavirus cases.
Offering a similar expatiation for his early exhortations of anti-Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, Trump said he was merely throwing out ideas. Subsequent studies about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have been mixed at best, and the president recently has spent far less time discussing the drug.
"Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't," Trump said of sunlight.
Trump spoke a day after a Health and Human Services official said he was removed from his post because he questioned the value of the drug. The attorneys for Rick Bright said Thursday said they would soon be filing a whistleblower complaint on his behalf.
Bryan stressed that the findings were not so conclusive that Americans should abandon social distancing guidelines promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enforced by state orders across the country. He said it would be "irresponsible for us to say that we feel that the summer is just going to totally kill the virus."
Trump drew headlines in February for suggesting just that during a campaign rally in New Hampshire. "You know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away," he said then. "Hope that's true."
At the White House on Thursday, he reminded reporters that he had made the prediction and implied that the study confirmed his theory.
"I once mentioned that maybe it'll go away with heat and light," the president said Thursday. "And people didn't like that statement very much."
Trump's suggestions drew criticism on social media. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at The George Washington University Hospital, said there's no medical basis for Trump's statements about sunlight.
"Tanning beds are not the solution," Reiner said.
Contributing: Michael Collins