Last night when Twitter started cracking jokes about President Trump proposing bleach injections or funneling sunlight into human bodies as a possible coronavirus cure, we thought there was a possibility people were taking his comments out of context for the sake of a joke. Turns out, we gave the man too much credit.
"So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light—and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing," Trump said before press during a briefing late Thursday "And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too."
"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? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."
Yes, America's president was really publicly spitballing treatment theories that would get rejected from a middle school science fair.
Though, it's not too difficult to understand where Trump would get such ideas. It's just that the only someone could land on such hypothesis is with a complete lack of understanding of the basics of what a virus even is.
We are not, of course, a scientific outlet, but in the interest of hopefully preventing someone from loading up Lysol into a syringe and injecting themselves with a lemon-scented home remedy, let's break down the basics.
The Virus Outside of a Host is Kind of a Pathetic Thing
Viruses on their own are pretty pitiful little things. They can't reproduce by themselves. They can't fly. They don't have a navigation system that guides them straight to your nose. The most they can do is float in the air for a little while before settling on a surface. With COVID-19 specifically, scientists have found the virus eventually completely dies out on surfaces in a matter of a few hours to a few days, depending on the type of surface and other variables. An actually infectious concentration of the virus may dissipate some time before that.
On surfaces, it's pretty easy to kill. Humble hand soap, warm water, and 20 seconds does the trick on our skins (the soap quickly destroys a layer of fat enveloping the virus). A rather large list of common household cleaning products also does the job of disinfecting coronavirus from surfaces. Of course, anyone who has done basic household chores knows that you don't want to use these products on your own skin (it is not immediately clear how familiar Trump is with doing household chores).
So what about this UV and sunlight stuff? UV light can kill some strains of virus on surfaces, but it's harmful to humans in natural doses (hence why you wear sunscreen) and even more so in concentrated doses. There's also some research that shows natural sunlight may significantly lower the lifespan of coronavirus outside. Believe us, scientists are hard at work trying to determine how this may help to slow the spread of the virus, but they aren't treatments for those already sick.
Once The Virus Enters the Body, It's a Whole Different Ball Game
A virus is all too humble when its out there floating outside a host, but once it infects a body it suddenly becomes a menace. Viruses essentially hijack a host organism's cells as a way to replicate itself. Your body gets turned into a coronavirus factory, and the virus doesn't care what havoc it wreaks to replicate itself. Your immune system has ways to fight an infection off, but coronavirus can still prove fatal.
Your immune system does not, however, have ways to fight off bleach. Your body is much more complicated than your toilet seat. Disinfectants can kill the virus outside the body, but once inside they can also kill you. Disinfectants simply don't know the difference between a virus and the cells vital to keeping you alive. That's why antiretroviral medications are often incredibly complicated and take years to develop. That's also why vaccines, which prompt your body's own immune system to kill off the virus once it enters your system, are still our best bet to ward of illnesses caused by viruses.
As for the idea of somehow injecting light into the inside of the human body? Well, something would have to be practical before one could even figure out all the reasons why that might not be a good idea.
Why This Proves Worrisome, Even If People Don't Inhale Bleach at Home
It should be obvious that preventing the spread of the virus and treating it once it infects someone are two completely different things. It's like the difference between diplomacy and armed conflict (though, to be fair to Trump and other American presidents have had an awful hard time distinguishing between those before).
What Trump's ramblings do prove, almost a little too clearly, is how easily public official not particularly well-versed in public health and science can latch on to any positive information they happen to hear and try to craft public policy from those assumptions. Undoubtedly, politicians in warmer southern states who seem over-eager to "open up" again have perhaps looked into studies that suggest sunlight and humidity may slow the spread of the virus. Though, that doesn't completely eradicate the threat.
Miami-Dade County, one of the few areas in the continental United States that has a tropical climate has over 10,000 (detected) cases. It has far less than half the population of relatively chilly Denmark, but 2,000 more cases. So obviously warmth and humidity aren't a silver bullet.
And once someone contracts the disease in a warm and humid environment, there's no reason at all to think their prognosis will be any better. Bright and sunny Palm Beach County has had a worryingly high mortality rate amongst patients.
While scientists at time can seem stubbornly cautious, as is their way, it is much better to take advice from someone who has at least bothered to look up the word "virus" in a dictionary before.