White House stages short briefing after outcry over disinfectant remarks

President Trump and his coronavirus task force held an unusually short briefing on Friday following blowback over Trump’s comments the previous day suggesting that doctors should study whether light or disinfectants could be used to treat patients infected with the coronavirus.

Trump has since said that the remarks were made in jest, and the issue did not come up at Friday’s briefing. The president did not take questions, as he is accustomed to doing, and ended the briefing after less than a half hour, making it much shorter than the usual White House briefings during which the president often fields multiple questions and spars with the press.

Trump used his remarks at the outset of Friday’s briefing to highlight the decline in percent of positive coronavirus tests across the country over the past week, particularly in New York and Louisiana, which he said signaled “significant progress” against the virus.

The president also touted efforts by states to begin reopening their economies, while emphasizing the need for Americans to continue to follow social distancing guidelines.

“We are opening our country, it is very exciting to see,” Trump said, expressing optimism about the ability of the U.S. economy to rebound as the coronavirus outbreak subsides.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn spoke briefly about efforts to cut regulation and bolster testing to confront the pandemic, noting that the administration had reviewed and authorized 63 different diagnostic and serology tests including the first at-home test this week. Hahn took only one question on antibody testing.

Vice President Pence used his remarks to highlight the administration’s efforts on testing, amid demands from governors and health experts for the administration to expand its testing capacity before states begin relaxing coronavirus restrictions.

“We are implementing a testing strategy that is supported at the federal level but is deployed and managed at the state level,” Pence said, thanking governors for their efforts. “We are going to continue to increase testing dramatically in the weeks ahead.”

Trump and his task force left the briefing room after a little more than 20 minutes, without taking further questions. With the exception of Hahn, the briefing did not feature other health experts, like Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, who attend most of daily briefings each week.

The occurrence represented a significant departure for Trump, who typically takes questions at the coronavirus briefings, some of which have exceeded two hours.

On March 8 and 15, the president also left briefings without taking questions, but on both occasions, other members of the task force fielded questions following his departure.

The White House sought to change the seating rotation for reporters in attendance shortly before Friday’s briefing began. Reporters said that White House staff informed the print pooler covering Friday’s briefing to swap seats with CNN, which holds a space in the front row. The reporter declined to take the network’s seat, citing guidance from the White House Correspondents’ Association, which traditionally oversees the seating assignments.

Trump fielded questions earlier Friday in the Oval Office after signing a $484 billion package that funds a small business lending program and provides more funding to support hospitals and testing efforts.

During that appearance, he addressed remarks he made a day earlier raising the possibility of using disinfectants as a treatment for the coronavirus, telling reporters they were made in jest.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

Trump’s remarks about the use of disinfectants on Thursday have inspired broad pushback from the medical community and caused the maker of Lysol to issue a statement warning individuals against ingesting its products.

Trump made the comments after a briefing from a top Department of Homeland Security science official about new research showing sunlight, high temperatures and bleach and isopropyl alcohol causes the coronavirus to deteriorate more rapidly.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said 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.”

“Then I see the disinfectant, where it 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,” the president continued.

The remarks were met with broad scrutiny from health experts and Democrats over the course of Thursday night and Friday.

The White House on Friday morning accused the media of taking his remarks out of context, and Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he meant the comments on disinfectants were made sarcastically.

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus Donald Trump White House task force
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