Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland (R) and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan (D) said Sunday that President Donald Trump’s recent comments musing about whether disinfectant could potentially be injected as a remedy for coronavirus caused a surge in phone calls to emergency hotlines in their states inquiring about its truth.
“When misinformation comes out, or you just say something that pops in your head, it does send a wrong message,” Hogan said on ABC’s This Week. “We had 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.”
Hogan lamented that the government had to “put out that warning to make sure that people were not doing something like that, which would kill people.”
And he offered a critique of the president’s behavior at the White House’s coronavirus press conferences: “This has been important to me from day one, communicating 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,” Hogan said.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency warned that “under no circumstance” should disinfectants be ingested.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) April 26, 2020
In an earlier appearance on This Week, Whitmer said she too had seen a worrying uptick in calls about ingesting disinfectants.
“When the person with the most powerful position on the planet is encouraging people to think about disinfectants, whether it was serious or not, people listen,” Whitmer said. “And so we have seen an increase in numbers of people calling poison control, and so I think it’s really important that every one of us with a platform disseminate medically accurate information.”
Hogan’s and Whitmer’s comments added more weight to reports that Trump’s query about using disinfectant to fight the virus was causing public confusion — and that it may have even encouraged people to consume poisonous products.
The confusion began on Thursday during a White House briefing about coronavirus. After listening to Bill Bryan, the undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, detail research on sunlight and disinfectant’s ability to destroy the coronavirus, Trump turned to health official and coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx and asked if disinfectant could be used in the human body.
“Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” he asked. (The answer is no — and it can kill you.)
After that press conference, it wasn’t just Michigan and Maryland that saw a surge in calls to poison control centers.
A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the day after the briefing the city’s poison control center received an uptick of calls about exposure to chemicals, including nine cases “specifically about exposure to Lysol, 10 cases specifically about bleach and 11 cases about exposures to other household cleaners.”
The public health director for Illinois, Ngozi Ezike, said Saturday there was “a significant increase in calls” to the state’s poison control center, and said that in recent days residents have reported alarming acts such as using detergent solution for a sinus rinse and gargling with a mixture of bleach and mouthwash.
Even more concerning, Trump’s comments came at a time when there has already been an ongoing increase in reports of exposure to and ingestion of disinfectants and cleaners across the nation.
Due to that uptick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in a report last week that while data from poison control centers “do not provide information showing a definite link between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, there appears to be a clear temporal association with increased use of these products.”
Part of that temporal link may be due to more people using the disinfectants on household surfaces. Nevertheless, following Trump’s press briefing, the CDC tweeted, “Household cleaners and disinfectants can cause health problems when not used properly. Follow the instructions on the product label to ensure safe and effective use.”
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