The manufacturer of Lysol and Dettol, health experts, and even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rushed to warn consumers Friday that President Donald Trump’s suggestion to inject disinfectant or use ultraviolet light to treat COVID-19 could prove lethal.
Trump surprised the press at his Thursday briefing, and left Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Trump Administration, squirming in her seat, when he made the comments.
“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. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that,” he said.
U.K. home products company Reckitt Benckiser US:RBGPF, which makes the two household name disinfectants, immediately published a statement warning: “Under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)”.
Trump’s suggestion comes after weeks in which he touted the use of anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a treatment for the virus, even though there have been no clinical trials to suggest they are effective and they have known side effects.
While both drugs are approved for malaria, hydroxychloroquine has also been approved as a treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and patients suffering from those illnesses have suffered from a shortage of supplies, ever since the federal government began adding it to the federal stockpile.
There are no proven treatments or vaccines for COVID-19 but the Food and Drug Administration in late March issued emergency use authorizations allowing the drugs to be used in a somewhat limited capacity in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, who can’t participate in a clinical trial.
On Friday, the FDA warned that health care providers need to be aware of the serious and sometimes fatal heart rhythm problems that can occur in patients when taking hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. The heart-rhythm risks associated with the drugs are cited on their labels. The FDA said it is investigating heart-related adverse events in COVID-19 patients taking either drug, or in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin or other therapies.
Trump also said Thursday he may extend federal social-distancing guidelines into the summer, even though last weekend he supported protests in some states by people demanding stay-at-home rules be lifted, and he then criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for making plans to allow small businesses, including massage parlors and tattoo studios, to reopen.
Health experts have repeatedly urged states to approach reopening after strict lockdowns with extreme caution if they wish to prevent a second wave of infections.
Latest case tallies
There are now 2.77 million cases of COVID-19 globally and 194,456 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 762,196 people have recovered. The U.S. has the highest case toll in the world at 883,826 and the highest death toll at 50,373.
Spain has the highest number of cases in Europe at 219,764 and 22,524 deaths. Italy has 192,994 cases and 25,969 deaths, the highest number of fatalities in Europe.
France has 159,495 cases and 22,278 deaths, while Germany has 154,111 cases and just 5,632 deaths. The U.K. has 144,632 cases and 19,561 deaths. Turkey has 104,912 cases and 2,600 deaths, followed by Iran with 88,194 cases and 5,574 deaths. China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has 83,885 cases and 4,636 deaths.
Russia’s case tally rose by 5,849 on Friday, a steep increase that suggests the country is far from flattening the curve of new infections reported daily, a measure health experts agree is necessary to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed. Russia now has 68,622 cases and 615 fatalities, nearly half of whom were residents of Moscow.
Spain’s death tally fell to its lowest level in more than a month on Friday with just 367 new deaths reported. South Korea reported no new deaths in the last 24-hour period, while China reported just six new cases.
Household goods producer Johnson & Johnson US:JNJ said it is investing $135 million in Emergent BioSolutions Inc. US:EBS as part of a manufacturing deal for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate. J&J has said it plans to launch Phase 1 clinical studies of its vaccine in September, and this deal is part of efforts to ramp up manufacturing capacity.
Siemens Healthineers US:SMMNY , which has already launched a diagnostic test for the virus, has now developed an antibody test. The test has sensitivity of 99% and can run 440 results in an hour, Siemens said. The German company is expecting the new test to be available in late May, and is aiming to produce 25 million tests a month after that. Siemens has not yet received an emergency use authorization from the FDA or a CE mark for conforming to EU health standards but is in the process of applying for both.
What’s the U.S. economy doing?
In economic news, U.S. durable goods orders plummeted in March, mostly because of a steep falloff in sales of big-ticket items such as cars and trucks as the pandemic swept across the country. Orders fell 14.4% to mark their second biggest decline since the government began keeping track in the early 1990s. Orders never even fell that much during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a 12.8% decline in orders for long-lasting products made to last at least three years. If cars and planes are stripped out, orders were actually fell just 0.2%, the government said Friday. Still, every major category showed a decline except for communications equipment.
What are companies saying?
In company news, three components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average US:DJIA reported earnings and each offered some update on how the coronavirus epidemic is impacting business. Intel Corp. US:INTC posted far better-than-expected numbers, but offered a gloomy outlook for the second quarter, disappointing investors and weighing on shares.
Analysts weighing in on Friday were disappointed that the chip giant pulled its full-year guidance.
“[I]nvestors will question… ‘how precipitous a decline is now expected in 2H to compel management to remove their (easily beatable) full-year guidance?” Susquehanna analyst Christopher Rolland wrote. “Similar to recent quarters under CEO Bob Swan, it is difficult to discern whether this is management’s true expectation for a sharp slowdown or this is Swan’s (now) signature conservatism.”
Elsewhere, companies continued to announce cost cuts and cash-preservation measures, to furlough staff and cut executive pay as a result of the pandemic.
Here’s the latest companies had to say about COVID-19:
? Alphabet Inc.’s US:GOOG US:GOOGL Google is cutting its marketing budget by as much as half in the second half of the year, and has imposed a hiring freeze for full-time and contract employees, according to a CNBC report. A company spokesperson told MarketWatch that the company is “re-evaluating the pace of our investment plans for the remainder of 2020 and will focus on a select number of important marketing efforts.” Last week, Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said Google would reduce spending the rest of the year amid the COVID-19 crisis, starting with hiring. The company is scheduled to report fiscal first-quarter results on April 28 amid a steep downturn in advertising sales, a staple of its revenue.
? The coronavirus pandemic is expected to delay the return of Boeing Co.’s US:BA 737 Max to the skies until at least late summer or early fall, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing people briefed on the matter. The company’s 737 Max fleet has been grounded since last March following two deadly crashes related to an anti-stall system. The Federal Aviation Administration is not expected to approve the lifting of the grounding until August or later, as officials work from home, putting further pressure on the aerospace company, which is also being hit as airlines around the world stop flying during the pandemic.
? Exxon Mobil Corp. US:XOM is targeting initial production of 160,000 gallons of medical grade sanitizer, which will be donated to health care providers and first responders in Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas as they battle the pandemic. The target amount will be able to fill five million four-ounce bottles of sanitizers. The oil giant has reconfigured manufacturing operations in Louisiana. Earlier this month, Exxon increased production of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) by 3,000 tons, which is enough to make up to 50 million 4-ounce bottles of medical-grade hand sanitizer.
? Freeport-McMoRan Inc. US:FC is revising the operating plans for 2020 that it made in January as it struggles with the impact of the pandemic on its business. The copper and gold miner is cutting 2020 estimated operating costs by $1.3 billion, or about 18%, from the original plan, reducing planned capex spending by $800 million, or about 30%, cutting exploration and administrative costs by $100 million, or about 20%, and cutting estimated copper sales volumes by 400 million pounds, or about 15%. The revised plan prioritizes existing mine operations. Freeport is planning to furlough workers, reduce bonus programs, cut travel and other costs and reduce executive pay. The company had $5.1 billion in liquidity at end March and is not planning to pay a quarterly dividend during 2020. Freeport also reported earnings for the first quarter, showing a net loss of $491 million, or 34 cents a share, after earnings of $31 million, or 2 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Its adjusted per-share loss came to 18 cents, matching the FactSet consensus. Revenue fell to $2.798 billion from $3.792 billion, below the $2.896 billion FactSet consensus.
? J.C. Penney Co. Inc. US:JCP is in advanced talks for bankruptcy funding, and is seeking a loan package of $800 million to $1 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. The troubled retailer is in talks with existing lenders including Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. for a debtor-in-possession loan that would keep the company’s operations running during the bankruptcy process. A bankruptcy filing could come in the following weeks, the report said. Retailers, especially department stores, have been hard-hit by the coronavirus-related shutdown. Last week, Cowen analysts estimated that J.C. Penney [l: had about seven months of operating cash left.
? SkyWest Inc. US:SKYW has reached agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department to receive $438 million under the Payroll Support Program as part of the CARES Act. Of the total, $337 million will be in the form of a direct grant and $101 million will be in the form of a 10-year loan. The agreement obligates the airline to issue warrants to the government for the purchase of 357,000 shares of common stock. “These funds will cover important payroll expenses as we work together with our people to provide critical air service during this difficult time, and prepare for when demand returns,” said Chief Executive Chip Childs.
? Tyson Foods Inc. US:TSN is halting production at its Pasco, Wash. beef facility to allow team members be tested for the coronavirus. The company said health officials in Walla Walla, Benton, and Franklin Counties will assist in testing more than 1,400 workers at the plant. The plant produces enough beef in a day to feed four million people. The workers affected will be paid while they self-isolate at home. “Unfortunately, the closure will mean reduced food supplies and presents problems to farmers who have no place to take their livestock,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, in a statement. “It’s a complicated situation across the supply chain.” Tyson this week said it is indefinitely suspending production at a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, for testing.