- Since last week, President Donald Trump has lauded chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential treatment options for COVID-19.
- While there is some evidence that supports their effectiveness against the virus, health officials warn that not enough testing has been done to approve their widespread use.
- Still, people have begun trying to acquire the potential antiviral, leading to shortages for people who need it for it’s already approved treatments for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Shortages of Hydroxychloroquine for People Who Need It
While panic buying has to lead to toilet paper and cleaning supplies shortages across the nation, it’s now also making it harder for some people to get their hands on medicine they’ve taken for years.
An influx of worried Americans are rushing to get ahold of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that treats diseases and disorders such as malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. It’s also been hailed by President Donald Trump as an effective drug against COVID-19.
But that’s still unknown.
While there is evidence to support hydroxychloroquine or the similarly-touted chloroquine’s effectiveness against the pandemic, there is currently still not enough evidence to prove it should be used as a widespread treatment against COVID-19.
Even though both drugs have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the approvals are not for COVID-19. To be used on a widespread basis, the drugs would need approval following clinical trials.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from trying to acquire the potential antiviral by any means possible.
“Well it finally happened to me,” pharmacist Katherine Rowland said on Twitter. “A dentist just tried to call in scripts for hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin for himself, his wife, & another couple (friends). NOPE. I have patients with lupus that have been on [hydroxychloroquine] for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”
According to the University of Utah, several doctors tried writing prescriptions for both themselves and for family friends to hoard in case they contracted the virus. The university refused to fill their prescriptions.
Because of stories like that, however, many people who need the drug for other conditions are finding themselves without.
According to The New York Times, 47-year-old Toni Grimes was told on Monday that she would have to wait until March 30 to refill her chloroquine prescription meant to treat her lupus. She said this is the first time she hasn’t been able to get her prescription refilled in the 13 years she’s been on it.
Grimes also runs a Phoenix-area Lupus Foundation support group and said another member also has yet to receive their refill, as well.
Such shortages have spurred the Lupus Foundation to release a statement, reading:
“The Foundation applauds the commitment of pharmaceutical companies that have pledged to increase production and supply of [vital] medications. We call on all manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to do the same. However, increased production must not solely be done for the purpose of responding to COVID-19, but also to meet the existing needs of people with lupus.”
In fact, the scramble to obtain these drugs has grown so rapidly that four of the seven companies that make generic hydroxychloroquine are facing shortages. While the other three could have provided some cushion, they previously stopped making the drug altogether.
Because of the shortages, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has banned the hoarding of these drugs. Now, people in Ohio can’t buy it unless they have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or a confirmed case of COVID-19.
People Are Dying Because They’re Self-Medicating
Ultimately, that may prove to be a beneficial move not only for people in Ohio who need these drugs but also for the people who don’t.
While not in the United States, reportedly, three people in Nigeria have all overdosed on the drug after self-medicating.
Because of that, Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control issued a statement urgently warning people not to self-medicate, as such a move could lead to harm or even potential death.
In the U.S, an Arizona man died after reportedly ingesting chloroquine; however, instead of using the medical form of chloroquine, both this man and his wife took chloroquine that was supposed to be used to treat parasite infections for fish.
That woman is still alive, but she’s in critical care.
In an interview with NBC News, she said she and her husband—both of whom were in their 60’s—took it after watching several reports on television, including watching Trump laud the drug from the White House Press Room.
“I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?'” she said. “We were afraid of getting sick.”
Unfortunately, this couple’s goals were flawed from the start. Neither hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine are being used as vaccines; rather, they are being investigated as potential antivirals. The difference here is that while vaccines prevent a person from getting the disease, antivirals are only meant to treat the disease after you already get it.
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine in Clinical Trials
For widespread use, scientists need to prove that these drugs are not only effective against COVID-19 but also that the benefits outweigh the risks.
While this is a normal goal for any drug, scientists are playing especially close attention to these drugs as governments try to rapidly push them through clinical testing.
“Chloroquine is an extremely toxic drug with a terrible side effect profile,” Meghan May, a microbiologist at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a written email to The New York Times. “Hydroxychloroquine is far safer, but its side effects are still significant. If it is not abundantly clear that it is beneficial, giving this drug to a critically ill patient feels risky.”
Those side effects include heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure, as well as muscle or nerve damage.
As reported in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers found evidence that hydroxychloroquine impedes the coronavirus’ ability to enter cells; however, that alone doesn’t mean it would do the same thing in a person or that a person could tolerate the doses used in the lab.
In a clinical trial conducted in February, scientists in China reported that chloroquine helped more than 100 patients at 10 hospitals. Because of that, the drug reportedly saw widespread use both there and in South Korea.
Still, this trial is also not enough to prove chloroquine’s effectiveness against COVID-19. Reportedly, with this study, the treated patients all had various degrees of the illness and were all treated with different doses for different amounts of time.
The trial also didn’t contain any control groups, which means that it’s also possible people could have just recovered on their own without the drug.
Another study from France has also captured many eager ears, including Trump’s. There, doctors gave hydroxychloroquine to 26 people who had been infected with the coronavirus.
Of those 26 people, six were also given an antibiotic called azithromycin, but before that study was completed, six other people dropped out. Of those, three people wound up in intensive care and one died. That’s not necessarily to say chloroquine killed them, because like that study from China, there was a lot of variation between each case. Some had been asymptomatic while others were symptomatic.
At the end of the trial, none of the six patients who had received both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin had detectable levels of the virus. Meanwhile, over half who had received only hydroxychloroquine had no detectable levels, and only 12.5% of people who received neither drug had no detectable levels.
Once again, this single trial or even all three studies together are not enough to prove the effectiveness of these two drugs. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has called such trials only anecdotal at the moment. In fact, clinical trials could take months.
Trump’s Calls for Chloroquine and Hydroxyquine
Scientists have been eyeing these drugs as potential treatments for most of the outbreak’s lifespan, but their names gained household usage after Trump announced last week that he was asking the FDA to cut “red tape” around their usage.
“It’s very powerful, but the nice part is that it’s been around for a long time so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody,” Trump said of chloroquine on Thursday.
Over the weekend, Trump continued to prop up those drugs, saying on Twitter, “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine… Hopefully they will….be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”
Trump announced Monday that the federal government was working to obtain large quantities of chloroquine. It has already received 3 million doses from Bayer.
On Tuesday, New York state began two trials, one focusing on chloroquine and another focusing on hydroxychloroquine with the azithromycin.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (Politico)
Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000
- More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all.
- Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
- Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
- Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet.
Millions Without Water
As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.
Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday.
Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.
The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event.
Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.
Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.
Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K
All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.
That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week.
While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.
One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.
“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs.
In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,”
He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”
In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”
That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.
Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”
“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said.
While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power
- The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
- Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
- Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.
Power May Be Back but Problems Persist
Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning.
According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages.
While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.
For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”
Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes.
Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers.
One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.
“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”
The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to.
For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused.
As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break.
Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed
Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.
A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.
So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.
Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.
Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.
According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”
Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.
See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)
Texas Mayor Tells “Lazy” Residents “No One Owes You” Anything Amid Power Outages
- When residents in Colorado City, Texas turned to a local Facebook group to ask if the city or county had emergency shelter plans in place to keep people warm amid power outages, Mayor Tim Boyd shared a Facebook message that sparked outrage.
- “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” he wrote before suggesting that those struggling are “lazy.”
- “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he added. “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
- Hours later, Boyd said he was speaking as a citizen since he had already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. It’s unclear when he actually resigned and he is still listed as mayor on the city’s website.
Mayor Under Fire
The mayor of Colorado City, Texas is facing intense backlash for comments he made on Facebook Tuesday claiming the local government has no responsibility to assist residents struggling amid historic winter temperatures.
The remarks came after community members turned to a local Facebook page asking if the city or county had emergency shelters in place to keep people warm amid widespread power outages.
In response, Mayor Tim Boyd wrote, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!”
“Sink or swim it’s your choice!” He continued. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”
Boyd argued that residents should come up with their own plans to keep their families safe. Those that are sitting at home in the cold waiting for assistance, he said, are “lazy” as a direct result of their raising.
“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he continued, likely meaning perish in his statement.
He blamed the calls for basic services like heat and electricity a product of a “socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts.”
He closed by telling locals to “quit crying,” adding, “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
Mayor Doubles Down, Says He Already Resigned
That now-deleted post drew immediate backlash as Texans continue to slam the government for not delivering adequate support amid the storm.
The outrage eventually prompted Boyd to write a follow-up post, which he also later deleted.
In it, he claimed that his comments “were taken out of context” and did not apply to the elderly; however, he continued to double down.
“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”
Boyd said he already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. He also said he wished he would’ve kept his words to himself or been more descriptive, and he added that all the anger and harassment since his post has caused his wife to lose her job.
Ultimately, he said he was speaking as a citizen since he is no longer mayor and called for the harassment of his family to stop.
According to The Washington Post, it isn’t immediately clear if he resigned before or after writing his controversial Facebook post. As of early Wednesday morning, the paper noted that he was still listed as mayor on Colorado City’s website, and city council agendas showed that he had served in that role as recently as last week.