Florida orders controversial anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump as treatment for COVID-19

Medical personnel in hospital. (Photo by Don Murray/Getty Images)

Florida officials have ordered an anti-malaria drug backed by President Donald Trump in hopes of treating patients with coronavirus, which has infected nearly 4,000 Florida residents.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Saturday in Tallahassee that  the drug called hydroxychloroquine seems to work against the coronavirus – though not all people would agree.

The drug is a component of an experimental treatment embraced by officials in New York, according to the Washington Post. New York is a coronavirus hotspot that has led to a shelter-in-place order.

However, concerns have been raised about the safety and effectiveness of  anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus treatment, the Post said, based on health experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved drug “used to prevent and treat certain types of malaria.” But the CDC also said “there are no U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.”

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DeSantis said on Saturday: “There hasn’t been many effective treatments to fight COVID-19. One of the things that has been identified and was currently being utilized in the state of New York is this hydroxychloroquine.”

During a press briefing earlier this month at the White House, President Donald Trump appeared to be very optimistic about the drug hydroxychloroquine – used to treat malaria, lupus and other conditions – for treating patients with COVID-19, according to a transcript from whitehouse.gov.

“I spoke with Governor [Andrew] Cuomo about it at great length last night, and he wants to be right on — on the — he wants to be first on line.  And so I think that’s a tremendous — there’s tremendous promise, based on the results and other tests,” Trump said. “There’s tremendous promise.“

Shipments of the drug have been ordered for hospitals in Dade, Broward, Orange and Hillsborough counties, DeSantis said, adding: “this will be something the doctors can have at their disposal.”

“Look I am not a doctor, I am not telling anyone to take it or not to take it,” DeSantis said. “But I do believe in the idea of a right to try if somebody is in really bad shape and there’s no other treatment available,” he said. “We actually had a Floridian who used this, was in very bad shape…it seemed to clear up the lungs and the virus.”

Also Saturday, DeSantis said Florida will soon expand its coronavirus testing with a 45-minute rapid test that will be sent to South Florida and Jacksonville.

Jared Moskowitz, head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, has ordered over 2,000 tests for Florida, DeSantis said.

“I think this is really, really significant because the problem with the testing we have now is private labs are overrun, ideally they would want to turn it around in 24-48 hours but in fact, a lot of people have to wait three to five days to be able to get test results,” DeSantis said.

“Quick results, I think allows hospitals and healthcare workers to do a better job.”

And the FDA recently approved another rapid test that gives results in as little as five minutes, he added. “This is close to an instant test that we have on the market right now,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said he had a discussion with President Trump about adding Florida to the list of states that would receive the new rapid test.

The FDA has authorized a coronavirus test that can show results in less than 15 minutes, according to CNN.

Friday Gov. DeSantis issued an executive order to regulate travelers coming from Louisiana by setting up checkpoints on I-10. Florida is now expanding its executive order to include checkpoints on I-95, DeSantis said.