Fears surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus have spawned a rash of fraudulent cures involving dangerous behaviors like ingesting a powerful bleaching agent, or inhaling a toxic gas.
In Dallas on Friday, a federal judge granted a permanent injunction against Purity Health and Wellness Centers, a company that prosecutors allege solicited "ozone therapy," which involves inhaling ozone gas, as a cure or method of preventing COVID-19.
"This defendant preyed on public fear, peddling bogus treatments that had absolutely no effect against COVID-19," said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox in a statement. "As we've said in past COVID-19 civil cases: The Department of Justice will not permit anyone to exploit a pandemic for personal gain."
According to the complaint the company marketed the treatment on its Instagram page and posted statements saying, "The CORONA VIRUS is here in the USA. The only prevention is ozone. #coronavirus #ozonetherapy." Another read, "Corona Virus update: ozone eradicates lethal viruses and bacteria. #coronavirus #ozonetherapy."
In a recorded phone call earlier this month, Jean Allen, the owner of Purity Health, told a prospective customer that there was a COVID-19- positive patient in the facility for treatment.
"When asked how Defendants would stop the transmission of the virus given that patient's positive diagnosis, Defendants offered as the only protective measure the purported fact that ozone would sanitize everything," court documents say.
At the time of publication, there was no attorney of record for Purity Health and Wellness Centers or Allen.
"Victims suffer financial losses from the wire fraud scheme facilitated by Defendants, and victims further suffer harm via potential exposure to COVID-19 by unnecessarily visiting Purity Health's location for a treatment that does not work," the complaint says.
Last week, prosecutors took similar action against a chiropractor who was advertising homeopathic remedies that would provide "up to 90 percent protection" against COVID-19. Ray Nannis was touting the products as an effective COVID vaccine and treatment produced by his company, Optimum Wellness Solutions.
"As I've mentioned before, we do have a homeopathy," Nannis told viewers in an April 1 video posted to his company's Facebook page.
"It works as, based on history of over 20 years, on dealing with viruses that are very similar," he said. "It can help the body up to 90% deal with what's going on with the body. What it does is it gives the body an immunological and a neurological recognition of the energy, of the frequency of a virus, and this specific one being the coronavirus."
In a phone conversation with a U.S. Secret Service special agent, Nannis said that "if someone became infected with the novel Coronavirus and/or COVID-19, the homeopathy he was offering would minimize any associated symptoms." He then offered to sell the product to the agent for $95 per dose and said he would ship it directly if the agent provided his credit card information, according to the complaint.
While Nannis said he could not call his product a "cure" because of FDA restrictions, he said that it nonetheless "basically" was one "for all intents and purposes," according to the U.S. attorney's office. At this time, there are no products approved by the FDA that prevent or treat COVID-19.
The court granted the temporary restraining order against Nannis and Optimum Wellness Solutions, and ordered that he "immediately cease offering to treat, cure, prevent, or otherwise mitigate the impact of the novel Coronavirus or COVID-19, including, in particular, in connection with any 'homeopathy' or 'homeoprophylactic.'"
Nannis' lawyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Earlier Friday, President Trump sought to clarify the comments he made at the Coronavirus task force briefing the day before, in which he mused about the possibility of a cure. "And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute," the president said Thursday. "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. So that, you're going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me."
Mr. Trump told CBS News' Weijia Jiang in the Oval Office Friday that he "was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen."