PHOENIX — An Arizona megachurch hosting President Trump on Tuesday misleadingly claimed that its new air purification system “kills 99.9 percent of Covid within 10 minutes” but then backtracked shortly before the president spoke.
Mr. Trump visited Dream City Church in Phoenix, one of the nation’s biggest megachurches, to speak to thousands of Arizona college students gathered to support his re-election. With coronavirus cases sharply increasing in the state, some public health experts said the gathering had the potential to be a disaster.
But the church offered a possible solution on Sunday: Technology installed in the building’s ventilation system that would clean the air and kill the disease.
The technology, the church’s pastor said in a Facebook post that has since been removed, was developed by a local company whose C.E.O. said he sometimes attends the church.
“So when you come into our auditorium, 99 percent of Covid is gone, killed, if it was there in the first place” the pastor, Luke Barnett, said in the video. “You can know when you come here, you’ll be safe and protected. Thank God for great technology and thank God for being proactive.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Tim Bender, the chief executive of CleanAir EXP, the company behind the technology, said the church officials did not fully understand how the system worked and were not precise enough in describing the company’s claims.
Church officials clarified their remarks on Tuesday afternoon, saying in a statement that they had used imprecise language.
“We have heard Coronavirus and Covid used interchangeably. Our statement regarding the CleanAir EXP units used the word Covid when we should have said Coronavirus or Covid surrogates,” the statement read. “We hope to alleviate any confusion we may have caused.”
Even as Arizona is seeing some of the steepest increases in cases and deaths in the country, thousands of residents have packed bars and restaurants in recent weeks, trying to escape both heat and boredom. Until last week, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, prevented Democratic mayors in the state from requiring face masks.
After calls to restrict or cancel the Trump appearance, Mr. Ducey told reporters, “we’re going to protect people’s rights to assemble in an election year.” He attended the event on Tuesday.
Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix, a Democrat, repeatedly criticized the event, saying on Monday that “it does not abide by C.D.C. guidelines during Covid-19.”
“Public health is a group effort, not a partisan issue,” she added. “It requires the participation of every resident and every level of government.”
Photos of the event taken inside the church showed the crowd shoulder to shoulder, with very few people appearing to wear masks.
The event was sponsored by Students for Trump, a group affiliated with Turning Point Action, a pro-Trump group backed by the financier Charlie Kirk.
Using charged ions to remove airborne pollutants is not new, and such a system could help cleanse the church’s air, but certainly without the rapidity claimed, and it would not guarantee safety, experts said.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated June 22, 2020
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
“The claims seem suspicious on several counts, but they don’t provide enough information to decipher what they are really doing,” said Jose L. Jimenez, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Church officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Bender said the technology, which would be installed in the ventilation system, generate positively and negatively charged oxygen ions. The ions then attach to particles in the air, adding electrical charge to the particles, causing them to clump together and fall out of the air. The ions could also react with the viruses to disable them.
Companies like CleanAir EXP base their claims on laboratory tests by outside firms but financed by the companies. A test of a CleanAir EXP device looked at a different type of virus in a test chamber about 900 cubic feet in volume — smaller than a box 10 feet on each side and tiny compared with the size of the church.
The test did not use the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 but a different virus that is often used as a stand-in for pathogens because it does not cause disease. “We do not, however, eliminate Covid-19 at this time,” the company said in a statement. “Our coronavirus surrogate testing results are significant for the future of clean air. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the CDC for additional laboratory testing and support the CDC’s guidelines on hygiene habits to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
In the test, 99.9 percent of the virus was destroyed, but Mr. Bender said that level of effectiveness would “absolutely not” occur in a real-world setting like the church. However, the air purification system would “reduce the chances” for the transmission of disease, he said.
“The system could help reduce background levels of infectious virus in the air, but in a crowded situation such as a rally, it is most likely that any transmission that occurs is between people standing close to each other for prolonged periods,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
William P. Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University, who looked over the testing results, said, “Suffice it to say that, based on the evidence available, the scientific community is skeptical of performance claims for these devices.”
Anyone who registered for the event was required to sign a waiver.
“By attending this convention, you and any guest voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19 and agree not to hold Turning Point Action, their affiliates, Dream City Church, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” it said.