The coronavirus outbreak’s toll mounted on Friday, as the U.S. death count reached 50,000 and new diagnoses continued to rise, while new arguments flared over COVID-19 treatments and the path to reopening an economy teetering on the brink of collapse.
A new warning from the Food and Drug Administration over the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two antimalarial drugs touted by President Donald Trump, opened a new, politically-charged front in the battle over treating the coronavirus. On Thursday, the president stirred a new controversy by speculating about whether household disinfectants could nullify the virus’ effects in the human body.
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine has been used to treat malaria, as well as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the FDA warned that the drugs “have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19,” linking them to increased cardiac risk.
In recent weeks, some states have taken steps to limit the prescriptions that can be filled by doctors, and created strict accountability efforts. Patients have been facing shortages as the federal government has received millions of doses from drugmakers Novartis (NVS) and Bayer (BAYRY) to the national stockpile.
Still, the race to find effective treatments and vaccines is as urgent as ever, with the outbreak still claiming new victims globally, and U.S. states eager to restart their economies. The president on Friday signed a bill that would send nearly $500 million in new stimulus funding to hospitals and small businesses.
There are now 2.7 million cases worldwide — and more than 872,000 of them are in the U.S. Yet the outbreak is showing signs of leveling off in key areas like New Jersey and New York, both of which are epicenters of COVID-19 diagnoses. On Friday, however, the Empire State reported over 8,000 cases, the third day of an increase.
Meanwhile, states are looking at a May 1 to relax restrictions on public life, an issue that remains a concern for many experts.
Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Yahoo Finance Friday that he was “a bit concerned” amid lagging testing efforts that could lead to a new surge in infections.
“I don’t think many of these areas are ready...a lot of these states that are moving forward are states actually that even modelers would suggest should wait until the end of May or even June.”
The debate has taken on fresh significance as federal officials preparing for the possibility of a resurgence of the virus in the fall or winter when temperatures fall back. Such an occurrence could once again strain the health system during the typically busy flu and holiday season.
Debate over disinfectant
At Thursday’s press briefing, Trump asked Dr. Deborah Birx if there was any way to inject a cleaning solution into the human body as a coronavirus treatment. “Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The suggestion sparked widespread discussion that dominated Friday’s news cycle, and prompted a few warnings from household companies. The White House was already under pressure after the ouster of Rick Bright, a vaccine expert leading the charge to find a cure for the coronavirus. Bright claims he was fired after pushing back against the use of hydroxychloroquine without rigorous study.
The maker of Lysol cleaning products, Reckitt Benckiser (RBGLY), issued a statement clarifying that “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”
His question came after a Department of Homeland Security official presented details of a study about the half-life of the virus on surfaces. The report said the DHS is continuing to test disinfectants, but the virus has shown to be weak when faced with 30 seconds of isopropyl alcohol, and an hour of direct sunlight in a 95-degree and high humidity environment.
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