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30 Texas nursing home residents treated with unproven drug

Boxes of medical personal protective equipment provide the backdrop as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott...
Boxes of medical personal protective equipment provide the backdrop as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gives an update on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak at the Texas Department of Public Safety warehouse facility in Austin, Texas, Monday, April 6, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)(KWTX)
Published: Apr. 6, 2020 at 6:32 PM CDT
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A group of nursing home residents in Texas City who have tested positive for the new coronavirus are being treated with the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday.

The announcement of the drug's use for the elderly patients comes as medical professionals and elected officials nationally debate over whether the unproven drug is safe for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

President Donald Trump has enthusiastically touted the drug and the federal government has approved it on an emergency basis in some COVID-19 cases, though medical experts have been far less willing to embrace its widespread use.

Abbott said the patients getting the drug are from The Resort at Texas City, a senior living facility where over 80 residents and workers have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

"About 30" patients who are infected are being treated with hydroxycholorquine to "determine whether or not it will be a successful treatment for those patients," Abbott said.

"They are, for the most part, in their second day of this testing regimen that will last several more days," Abbott said during a news conference in Austin about the state's response to the pandemic.

"We look forward to updating you as the week progresses about how this drug is aiding or not these patients."

Philip Keiser, Galveston County's local health authority, said he had not been involved in the decision to treat the patients using the drug, but supported the choice.

"This drug is widely being used to treat COVID-19 although its effectiveness is unclear," Keiser said.

Texas is not the only state where the hydroxychloroquine is being used on coronavirus patients since federal officials signed off on its for emergency use last week, clearing the way for it to be distributed to hospitals across the country.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier Monday that he has allowed its hospitals to use a treatment involving hydroxychloroquine "at their discretion."

He said the drug has been "anecdotally" promising, though it could still be weeks or months before researchers before official study results are available.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug often prescribed for the autoimmune disease lupus that has shown some potential to speed patients’ recovery in limited research, but has not been shown to work against COVID-19 in any significant clinical trial.

Chinese researchers found in a small trial that it sped recovery in mildly ill patients, but the study did not examine critically ill patients and has yet to undergo rigorous peer review.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the drug for “emergency use” among some COVID-19 patients “for whom a clinical trial is not feasible.”

But medical experts caution that it is untested and carries significant risks, including heart arrhythmia that can lead to cardiac arrest.

President Donald Trump has promoted use of the drug, while his senior medical adviser Anthony Fauci has cautioned that rigorous study of the drug is still necessary.

There are at least 7,276 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 140 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The cases are spread across 157 of the state's 254 counties.

There have been 85,357 coronavirus tests conducted in Texas, according to the DSHS figures.

The department on Monday began reporting the number of patients currently in Texas hospitals who are confirmed to have the virus.

That figure was 1,153 in DSHS' latest update.