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The Coronavirus: Hope? Or False Hope?

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn at White House news conference
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn cautions against "false hope" in dealing with the coronavirus.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, a cancer doctor, said today it's important to provide patients hope, "but not false hope," after President Trump said that chloroquine, a drug commonly used for malaria, has been approved for treating the coronavirus and will be made available "immediately."

While some scientists have said the drug could be a treatment for the virus that has struck more than 10,000 people in the U.S., the World Health Organization said last month there is "no proof" it is effective in treating COVID-19. Moreover, multiple media organizations reported immediately after Trump's claim that FDA has not approved chloroquine for treating the coronavirus.

Once again, Trump shoots from the hip, making false claims, building hope when it is nothing more than false hope. Perhaps chloroquine will be cleared for treating coronavirus patients, and perhaps it will be a miracle cure. But so far, we can only hope.

At Trump's news conference, he bragged about how he's instructed the FDA to eliminate unnecessary regulations and requirements that stand in the way of approving drug treatments, and Dr. Hahn, his appointee, said the agency is committed to providing regulatory flexibility and guidance.

But the commissioner also stressed the critical importance of making certain that drugs cleared by his agency for use against the virus are both safe and effective.

Another antiviral medication, Remdesvir, from Gilliad Sciences, has been used in the U.S. hoping to reduce the duration of the virus in patients. Trump said in his news conference that FDA has approved, or almost approved, the drug for use in coronavirus patients.

Commissioner Hahn said some 17,000 FDA scientists are working 24-7 to come up with effective therapies for the virus.

Playing Catchup

Trump is desperately playing catchup, as he famously said when the first case was reported in the U.S. that it was just "one case from China" and that if we just went about our business, it would magically go away when the weather warms. Since then, there are 11,355 confirmed cases and 171 deaths in the U.S.

Today, he painted a rosy picture of millions of masks and other desperately needed medical equipment being quickly made available as a result of a partnership with business that he, of course, engineered.

Well then, why is it that in a Seattle-area hospital they are using parts purchased from Home Depot and craft stores to create protective face shields for workers?

Why are Boston nurses using racquetball glasses in place of safety goggles?

Why is a dialysis center in New York preparing to use bandannas in place of masks to protect against the virus?

The fact that the Trump administration appears to have ignored what should have been clear warnings from the experiences in China, Italy and elsewhere, means that shortages of masks, of personal protective equipment, of ventilators for patients, are jeopardizing our medical personnel -- the very people we depend upon to make us better if we get sick.

Healthcare Workers

A federal official who was not authorized to talk with the media, and so spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said the government has received reports of more than 60 infections among health-care workers. More than a dozen are related to travel. Authorities are investigating how the others happened, The Post reported.

No doubt, that is the tip of the iceberg, and no doubt, it will get much worse.

The healthcare industry publication Modern Healthcare, reported last week that as the outbreak continues to spread, the risk of infection among healthcare workers rises.

The publication reported March 6 that In California, at least 50 healthcare workers had been sent home after coming into contact with infected patients.

In Washington state, more than 20 healthcare workers reportedly were under observation after interacting with a patient who died before testing positive for COVID-19.

The Washington Post reported today that at the EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, WA — just a few miles from the nursing home at the center of the U.S. outbreak — and in Paterson, NJ, two emergency physicians are hospitalized in critical condition with covid-19, according to their professional association. It is unclear whether the doctors, in their 40s and 70s respectively, were infected at their hospitals or in their communities, the American College of Emergency Physicians said.

Such cases have prompted leaders of some of the country's leading healthcare labor unions on Friday to call for hospitals and federal health officials to develop better approaches to prevent exposure to healthcare workers, Modern Healthcare reported.

"There's a lot that can be done that's not necessarily being done," Sean Wherley, a spokesman for the Services Employees International Union-United Workers West, told the publication.

Unless that happens, of course, those of us who do get sick will have little hope.

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It is all too crazy. My sister works in the health field and tells me nurses are reusing masks-awful!

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