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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Fact Check: Did Trump once tell Americans to inject bleach to fight COVID-19?

Joe Biden
Gage Skidmore
Creative Commons / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
President Joe Biden.

It’s time now for a fact-check of North Carolina politics. President Biden joined the vice president during a stop in Raleigh last week to promote his administration’s efforts to expand health care access. During his speech, the Biden made this claim about former President Trump’s response to the pandemic:“(Trump) told Americans all they had to do was inject bleach in themselves, remember that?” Biden said. “Not a joke, You think I am making this up? Just take a real shot of UV light.”

To fact-check that, I’m joined now by Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: OK, Paul. So the claim President Biden made refers to a press conference Trump gave in the early days of the pandemic. Which one was Biden talking about?

Paul Specht: The press conference was April 23, 2020, and this was six weeks after the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic. Things are shutting down. People are looking to the White House for insights into what they could possibly do to prevent, or cut down on, the risk of getting infected. Trump's administration invited William Bryan to the White House and he was the under secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security. That's where these comments happened.

Terry: So Bryan spoke first and then Trump after that. What did they actually say?

Specht: Bryan said that his team had done some experiments that found that sun exposure and disinfectants, cleaning agents like bleach, could kill COVID-19 on surfaces and in the air. He eventually steps aside and says, you know, this concludes my research, we have some good stuff to go on.

Then, Trump takes the mic and sort of riffs. He's looking back and forth at reporters, and then Bryan, who's sitting off to the side. And Trump says, speaking to reporters, you know, a question that a lot of you are probably thinking is, what if we hit the body — this is his words — with a tremendous ultraviolet or very powerful light — and I'm sort of paraphrasing here for the sake of clarity.

And then he turns to Bryan and says, I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're gonna test that. Sounds interesting, right?

And he goes on, he says, and I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in one minute. Is there a way we could do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning because you can see, it gets in the lungs — he's referring to the virus now — it does a tremendous number on the lungs, and I think it'd be interesting to check that. So he’s sort of rambling here and these comments created confusion.

Almost immediately after that, a reporter, who was sitting in this press briefing room asked him, did you just say you’re testing injections? And Bryan came back to the microphone and said no, no, that's not what we tested in our lab. And Trump also clarified, he said well, that's not what I meant, it wouldn't be through injections, it would be cleaning and sterilization of an area.

And so it appeared that they shut it down and clarified what they meant just moments later, but the press had already taken off with these comments that Trump made.

Terry: This whole conversation takes place in the larger context of Republicans being accused of minimizing the virus or turning to unscientific means to deal with it, right? It's not in a vacuum.

Specht: Right. And I don't remember the timing off the top of my head, but there were moments where some people appeared to downplay it and then offer alternative medicines. We saw that with hydroxychloroquine, a lot of Republicans speculated that that was a potential cure and studies showed that wasn't the case. We saw a lot of misinformation about what could and could not affect the coronavirus.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim by President Biden?

Specht: Mostly false. Trump did mention bringing UV rays and disinfectants into the body, but let's remember what Biden said. He said his predecessor, quote, "told Americans all they had to do was inject bleach in themselves, just take a shot of UV light." That is not what Trump said. It was by no means a demand, an instruction, a recommendation. Trump was speaking off the cuff. And then, scientists say, in an ill-advised way. He was not telling anyone to do anything. He was floating ideas for potential treatments to be tested. That's why we rated Biden's claim that Trump told people to inject bleach mostly false.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.