Texas Nursing Home Turns to Hotly Debated Malaria Drug in Fight Against COVID-19

A group of nursing home residents at The Resort at Texas City, which had more than 80 residents and staffers test positive for COVID-19, are being treated with an antimalarial drug that has made headlines as a possible treatment for the illness, though its efficacy remains untested and unproven in formal clinical trials.

The Texas Tribune first reported the news on Monday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement at a news conference in Austin about Texas’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, promising to update the public about the trial’s progress in the days to come.

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There are 30 patients being treated with *hydroxychloroquine, which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on an emergency basis in some COVID-19 cases where “a clinical trial is not feasible.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health — who has been helping spearhead the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 national emergency — has said that more rigorous testing of the drug is needed.

That said, it has been promoted by President Trump at White House briefings as a treatment that has potential in combatting the disease.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier on Monday that he permitted the state’s hospitals to use a treatment that involves the drug “at their discretion,” the Tribune reported. Limited research has indicated some potential to accelerate patient recovery, but no significant clinical trial has shown hydroxychloroquine to work on COVID-19, the article noted.

A message left by Skilled Nursing News with The Resort at Texas City was not returned by deadline.

The Texas Tribune reported that the facility’s chief medical officer serves on an advisory board for a pro-Trump group, but Dr. Robin Armstrong told the publication that his politics had nothing to do with the decision — and that the treatment was part of his goal to “treat folks like I would my mom.”

LeadingAge, which represents non-profit senior living and care providers, does not have a position on treating COVID-19 patients with the drug, adding that providers should follow the guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

*A spokeswoman for LeadingAge noted that residents do have the right to be informed of, and participate in treatment that includes experimental research, under government regulations, as well as the right to request, refuse and/or discontinue treatment, and to participate in or refuse to participate in experimental research, and to formulate an advance directive.

Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents more than 14,000 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, emphasized the lack of evidence around the drug in a statement provided to SNN.

“Hydroxychloroquine has not yet been proven safe and effective for treating COVID-19,” Gifford said in the April 7 statement. “More research is necessary to understand the safety and efficacy in our population. Any experimental research may require a regulatory waiver from CMS.”

*An earlier version of this story included a statement that did not fully characterize LeadingAge’s position on experimental treatments. An updated statement is presented here.

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