- 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)
As Unemployment Claims Rise, CA Officials Report Inmates Collected Millions in Benefits
- Unemployment numbers spiked for the second week in a row, marking the highest amount of new claims made since early October with 778,000 people filing. Over 20 million Americans are still collecting some kind of joblessness aid.
- Experts say this will only get worse as COVID cases continue to rise and states impose more restrictions. However, unlike during the spring shutdowns, struggling Americans and small businesses will likely not have any help from the federal government.
- Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in California reported that tens of thousands of inmates received upwards of $1 billion in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that officials described as “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”
Unemployment Numbers Spike
Another 778,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday, marking the highest spike since early October and the second week in a row that new claims have risen.
According to experts, this data signals that the massive coronavirus spikes the U.S. has seen in recent weeks are slowing the economy once again. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 2 million new cases in the same two weeks that joblessness claims also went up, bringing the official case count to more than 12.6 million Americans infected and over 260,000 dead.
As the COVID-19 spikes continue, and with more state and local governments imposing new restrictions on public gatherings, limiting hours and operations for restaurants and bars, and temporarily closing down some businesses entirely, economists say this situation will get worse before it gets better.
Unlike the first wave of shutdowns this past spring, it seems almost certain that struggling Americans will have to weather these latest closures without any help from the government.
Already, many of the programs that gave trillions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small businesses under the CARES Act have expired, and most of the few remaining programs will run out soon.
That is especially concerning when it comes to unemployment benefits. According to a recent report from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, unless Congress and the White House sign off on a deal to extend key programs, roughly 12 million Americans will lose these benefits entirely the day after Christmas.
But after months of deadlock, any hopes for a new stimulus package petered out when the election came around. Democratic leadership is reportedly attempting to restart those talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to approve some kind of bill before the end of the year.
However, it remains unclear how all the problems that had deadlocked the lawmakers for months during the earlier negotiations will be resolved in time.
Inmate Unemployment Fraud
Meanwhile, states are still continuing to struggle with distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
On Tuesday, a task force lead by nine district attorneys across the state of California reported in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that tens of thousands of prison and jail inmates — including more than 100 people on death row — have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that the officials say “appears to be the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history,”
According to the task force, between March and August, inmates housed in every single California prison and in jails throughout the state filed 35,000 claims totaling at least $140 million in benefits, though the alleged crimes could total as much as $1 billion.
In most cases, officials said that the payments were given out in the form of prepaid debit cards sent to friends or family on the outside who would then later deposit the proceeds to inmate accounts.
In some cases, the joblessness benefits were sent directly to the jails and prisons. Sometimes the inmates used their real names, but other times, they used fake names and fake Social Security numbers.
In fact, prosecutors were tipped off to some of the cases by listening to inmates recorded phone calls, where they bragged about how easy it was the game the system.
As far as how such widespread fraud could happen, law enforcement officials blamed California’s Employment Development Department, which has been swamped with processing more than 16.4 million unemployment claims since March, resulting in a massive backlog of unfilled claims that, according to reports, has totaled upwards of more than 1.6 million people at times.
However, the task force also said that part of the problem was due to the fact that unlike at least 35 other states, California does not have the technology to crosscheck inmate rosters against unemployment claims.
In their letter, the officials called on Newsom to crack down on the rampant fraud and provide “significant resources” to do so.
Newsom, for his part, responded in a statement by calling the fraud “absolutely unacceptable,” and ordering the Office of Emergency Services to create a task force to help the prosecutors with their investigation.
However, as The New York Times pointed out, Newsom had already formed a “strike team” a few months ago to help the state’s employment department speed up claims and address other issues, including fraud at correctional facilities.
The district attorneys were still forced to form their own task force with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the reports of fraud in the employment department continued and the “strike team” failed to uncover the large amounts of fraud the other groups had seen.
Currently, it is unclear how Newsom’s new task force is different from the largely unsuccessful “strike team.”
These problems also go beyond unemployment. There have been frequent reports of CARES Act funding being misused, including by people using small business loans to buy luxury cars, as well as large companies or businesses connected to President Donald Trump Trump and members of Congress improperly receiving funding.
As Congress considers another much-needed stimulus package, these issues of transparency and accountability have now become paramount.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)
COVID-19 Cases Expected To Surge After Thanksgiving
- With coronavirus cases already on a steep rise in the U.S, experts are warning that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings will likely make things worse. Canada, for example, saw a jump in cases after its citizens celebrated the holiday last month.
- Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that Americans should hold out for a vaccine, which is on the horizon, and be safe this Thanksgiving.
- A family in Texas is also waring against gathering, saying they learned how dangerous it is the hard way. After celebrating a birthday together, all 15 people who attended the party tested positive for the virus.
- On top of this experts are also warning against thinking a negative test clears you for socialization. In reality, you can test negative for the virus and still have and transmit it.
Warning From Surgeon General
As Thanksgiving looms closer, warnings against family gatherings are being echoed by experts and everyday people alike.
Health officials have been vocal about the threat the Thanksgiving holiday poses when it comes to the coronavirus. The U.S. has seen 12.4 million cases and lost 257,000 lives to the virus, and cases have been on a steep increase this month. The CDC has already warned against travel and experts have said that based on the spike Canada saw after its October Thanksgiving, America is set to go down a similar, or even worse path.
“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus by any measure,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday on Good Morning America. “Cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths. We’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before.”
Adams said that with a vaccine on the horizon, Americans should just wait out this homestretch and stay put for the holiday.
“I’m asking Americans, begging you, hold on just a little bit longer,” he said. “Keep Thanksgiving and the celebration small and smart this year.”
Family in Texas Urges Caution
Health officials are not the only ones preaching this advice. In Arlington, Texas, a family that has lived the consequences of gathering without regard for public health is urging people to not make the same mistake as them. The Aragonez family celebrated a birthday earlier this month indoors without masks or distancing. Now, all 15 people who attended tested positive for the virus.
“We feel guilty for gathering,” members of the family said in a video encouraging caution. “All this pain that my family is feeling, this loneliness, this sickness, this longing to be healthy could have been prevented.”
“Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines,” one person said. “By staying apart we can fight this virus together.”
While most cases in the family were mild, one person was hospitalized for over a week.
“One moment of carelessness has cost us a month of peace, has cost us sleep, has cost us laughs, has cost us a lot of money,” one family member told the Washington Post.
Testing Negative is Not Enough
Many have still forged on with their gathering plans under the false idea that if everyone tests negative before attending, they are in the clear to socialize. However, experts warn this is far from the case.
Just because a person tests negative does not necessarily mean they do not have the virus. Tests are not 100% accurate and it can take days or even a week to test positive for the virus after exposure. Not to mention, people could come into contract with the virus between their test and the family event.
“A negative result is a snapshot in time,” Dr. Paige Larkin, a clinical microbiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago explaining to the New York Times. “It’s telling you that, at that exact second you are tested, the virus was not detected. It does not mean you’re not infected.”
While it might slightly minimize the risk of spread, it certainly does not eliminate it. More than anything, it gives people a false sense of security that they have a free pass to go wherever and see whoever they want, despite the fact that it still poses a large health threat.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)
Over 1 Million People Traveled Through U.S. Airports Friday, Despite COVID-19 Warnings
- Over 1 million people traveled through U.S. airports on Friday, marking the second-highest single day of airport traffic since the coronavirus pandemic began.
- The new record comes despite the fact that the CDC has issued a warning against travel for Thanksgiving, encouraging people to stay home instead because COVID-19 cases are already on a steep rise.
- In Canada, cases spiked after the country celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday in October.
- While cases were already increasing in the country, contact tracing has linked outbreaks to holiday gatherings, which likely accelerated the speed of spread.
Cases and Travel Both Increase
The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is expected to worsen the already increasing coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
Currently, the country has seen over 12.3 million cases and lost more than 256,000 lives to this virus. On Friday, the U.S. broke its record for new cases in a single day, reporting 198,500 cases. The daily average has reached 171,462 cases a day and roughly one-quarter of all cases in the U.S. have come from just the month of November.
These circumstances paint a grim picture of what could come after all of the traveling and large gatherings that are expected to happen over the holiday, even after repeated warning against doing so.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against traveling and advised that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
The CDC told travelers to ask themselves questions, like if cases are high in their home or destination, if their method of travel makes social distancing difficult, and if there are travel restrictions in their area. If the answers to any of those questions are yes, people should “consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.”
Despite these warnings, air travel is on the rise in the country. On Friday, more than 1 million people passed through airports, marking the second-busiest day of air travel since the pandemic began. While this is 1.5 million people less than the same day last year, the travel surge troubles health officials who fear the virus could spread as people gather with their families.
Case Spike After Canada’s Thanksgiving
All the U.S. has to do is look to its neighbor to the North in order to find out just what kind of impact Thanksgiving can have on coronavirus cases. Two weeks after Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, the country saw a spike in cases. While cases were already on the rise at the time, experts believe that holiday gatherings contributed to and accelerated the spread.
“Cases were indeed increasing already, but we definitely saw an increase in the rate of transmission after Thanksgiving. And we know that Thanksgiving is important for a couple of reasons. One is through contact tracing data,” Dr. Laura Rosella, an associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto told CBS News.
Contact tracing in the country showed a significant transmission from household gatherings stemming from Thanksgiving.
“One local health unit that reported about 12 people being infected because of a Thanksgiving gathering,” Rosella explained.
“It’s not the only reason the cases are increasing, it’s not the only setting in which transmission is occurring, but definitely when people gathered indoors it did transmit COVID.”
Still, people are more likely to feel safe with their family, no matter how high the COVID-19 risk actually is. Superspreading weddings are among the strongest examples of this, as numerous have led to significant outbreaks because couples thought it was safe to gather with friends, family, and other people they trust.
“Many people don’t believe that you can actually catch it from your family and friends. They feel safe when they are around people that they know,” Karen Potts, the director of the Adams County Health Department in eastern Washington explained to NBC News. “And I think that’s why this sort of event happens. People just feel safe, and they go to the event, and it just spreads so rapidly.”
One August wedding in Maine, for instance, was liked to 177 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths. Many of those cases include people who did not attend the wedding. In fact, none of the deaths traced back to the wedding were attendees.
An October wedding in Cincinnati led to 32 of the 83 guests getting COVID-19, including grandparents of the bride and groom. In Washington, a 300 person wedding earlier this month has led to 17 people getting the virus so far.