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Calls to Michigan poison control center see bump after Trump disinfectant comments

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan's poison control center received a slight bump in calls after President Donald Trump last week suggested exploring the injection of disinfectant to kill the coronavirus, though it's unclear if Trump's comments were what led to the increase.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cited the increase in calls when she stressed Sunday that using disinfectant in this way is toxic and not a valid treatment for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has no cure.

"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. And so we have seen an increase in numbers of people calling poison control," Whitmer told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week." 

"It's really important that every one of us with a platform disseminate medically accurate information, and I want to say, unequivocally, no one should be using disinfectant to digest it to fight COVID-19 Please don't do it. Just don't do it."

Trump on Friday insisted his comments about disinfectant were sarcastically made to reporters, though he did not sound sarcastic when he made the suggestion during Thursday's White House briefing.

More:Don't inject disinfectant: Blunt pushback on Trump musing

"I was asking a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands, and that would make things much better," Trump said during a bill signing Friday.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday in Washington.

The Michigan Poison Center at Wayne State University received 11 more calls Friday than the 145 it got Thursday — the day Trump made his comments about disinfectant, said Dr. Cynthia Aaron, the center's medical director. 

None of the calls were specifically about injecting disinfectant, Aaron said.

However, the center's calls about hand sanitizer, bleach and disinfectant generally are up over last year — a 400% increase in calls about disinfectant through April 25 compared to April 2019.

"Use of those chemicals in any way outside of what they’re meant to be used is dangerous. They are meant to be used on surfaces, not within the human body," said Aaron, an expert in medical toxicology.

The spike in calls to poison control centers isn't just happening in Michigan.

Maryland's Emergency Management Agency sent out an alert a day after getting more than 100 calls about using disinfectants to treat COVID-19, according to the office of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan, who appeared on "This Week" after Whitmer, was asked what he thought about Trump's remarks on injecting disinfectant. 

"I can't really explain it, George. I just think, look, I think the president's got to focus on the message, stick to a message and make sure that these press conferences are fact-based," Hogan said. 

"Other people in the administration have been trying to get make that clear to him, as well." 

Michigan ranks third in the U.S. with 3,274 deaths from COVID-19, and topping 37,000 cases as of Saturday. 

Whitmer also pushed back Sunday against the suggestion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, that hard-hit states pursue bankruptcy protections over a federal bailout. 

Michigan is facing an estimated budget hole of $3 billion as a result of the public health crisis. 

"It's outrageous for Senator McConnell to even suggest that. The fact of the matter is, our general fund budget when adjusted for inflation is the same as it was during when Richard Nixon was our president. We've been incredibly smart stewards," Whitmer said. 

"For Senator McConnell to suggest that is incredibly dangerous, and I don't think that the vast majority of governors in this country, Republican and Democratic, would agree with him. He's wrong and we need Congress to step up and help states," she added. 

"It's because of this global pandemic that we are all having to make tough decisions. We need the federal government to have our backs."

Stephanopoulos also asked Whitmer whether it was appropriate for Detroit-area Democrats to censure one of their own, state Rep. Karen Whitsett, after she credited Trump with advocating for the drug hydroxychloroquine that she said had cured her of COVID-19.

The resolution passed unanimously Saturday by the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party organization, claiming that Whitsett had "misrepresented the needs and priorities" of Democratic leadership to the president and the public.

Whitmer was not involved in the censure and declined to say whether it was the right thing to do, saying, "I'm not getting involved in those maneuverings of what's happening there." 

"I can just say this. That it's really important to get this right. We need to listen to experts and to doctors," Whitmer said.

"I know this state rep credits hydroxychloroquine with her success with COVID-19, but I do also know that the medical professionals are saying, you know that that's not the case. we should not make that assumption."

Whitsett told The Detroit News after the vote Saturday that she would not engage in the "pettiness politics" of the Democratic organization because she is busy working for her district.

Whitmer on ABC also said her stay-home order has not been too strict considering how the virus has ravaged Michigan and the public-health experts warning about the potential for a second wave of infection without aggressive action. 

The Republican-led state Senate approved a bill Friday limiting the governor's emergency powers — a measure that Whitmer has promised a veto if the House approves it and sends to her desk. 

Whitmer said most Michiganians agree with what she's done to stop the virus' spread.

"What was looking to be just an astronomical increase and predictions with regard to how many people would lose their lives from COVID-19 — we have flattened that curve because people are doing the right thing, and people recognize the value of the order that I've issued," she said. 

"It was hitting us incredibly hard, and that's why we had to have a unique solution, even though it was more aggressive than other states. We have started to really push down that curve and we've saved lives in the process."

mburke@detroitnews.com