Last week I wrote about a doctor who serves as the medical director of a nursing home in Texas City, Texas testing hydroxychloroquine on a group of elderly patients. The test results are in. It’s good news.
Dr. Robin Armstrong faced one of the largest outbreaks in the Houston area when 83 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the 135-bed facility in Galveston County. At the time, I wrote that he was treating 30 patients with hydroxychloroquine. Apparently those numbers have shifted. Now it is being reported that 39 elderly people gave Armstrong permission to treat them with hydroxychloroquine. Fifty-six residents contracted the virus.
Armstrong wasn’t willing to watch 15% of the nursing home die without doing something. Using President Trump’s line of reasoning – what the hell do you have to lose? – he prescribed the drug. “I thought the risk of seeing 15% of that nursing home die was just not acceptable,” he said of the residents at The Resort at Texas City.
Now that the five-day trial is completed, Dr. Armstrong was interviewed this week about the results. At first, he couched his answer by saying “most” of the patients have done well. “And, you know, and I think that that is suggestive that the medication is helpful,” he said. When the reporter pressed him on “most” patients, he explained. “We’ve got one patient now that kind of goes back and forth,” said Dr. Armstrong, “He’s an older gentleman, but we’re kind of nursing him through the process, but he’s getting better.”
Two patients receiving hydroxychloroquine have had to go to the hospital for unrelated conditions, Armstrong disclosed; a woman had a fall and a man got dehydrated in his room because he was not eating and drinking.
But for the first time since this treatment began, many of those who have recovered from the virus have been able to go outside and get some fresh air over the last 48 hours, Armstrong said.
So, except for the one elderly man who is being nursed along, the gamble on hydroxychloroquine certainly looks to have paid off. The drug is routinely used to combat malaria and is used by lupus patients, too. Regular users of the drug are facing concerns over shortages now. It’s not an option for those with lupus, it’s a necessity.
“I’ve been on this medication for about 20 years or so,” said Sandy Dixon, who lives in Euless in Tarrant County.
Hydroxychloroquine helps her live with lupus, but she says the pills have become harder for her to find since some doctors began using them for coronavirus patients.
“I understand for them it’s an ‘if’ but for me it’s not an ‘if’ factor. I need the medicine every day to be able to function.”
Kroger grocery stores have the drug in stock. CVS and Walgreens is limiting it to ensure everyone with a prescription gets it.
When asked if he thought the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 would be a politically-motivated question if President Trump had not spoken in favor of it, Armstrong admitted it probably wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. Opponents of Trump objected to his mentioning the drug as a possible treatment. If Trump had not brought it up, it likely would not be a controversial topic. Armstrong is a Republican activist, serves as a surrogate for the Trump campaign, serves on the advisory board of the Black Voices for Trump coalition and is one of Texas’ two Republican National Committee members.
“When this hydroxychloroquine came out, I was a bit skeptical,” he explained, “because I know the World Health Organization actually was not initially including it in their study, because they didn’t think that it was very effective.”
Dr. Armstrong reminded the reporter that hydroxychloroquine is not a cure for COVID-19. He said in his experience, though, it does reduce the severity of the symptoms.