Cedar Rapids hospital using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients, though doctor doesn’t recommend it to prevent virus

Dr. Robin Armstrong holds a bottle of hydroxychloroquine while posing outside The Resort at...
Dr. Robin Armstrong holds a bottle of hydroxychloroquine while posing outside The Resort at Texas City nursing home, where he is the medical director, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Texas City, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)(KCRG)
Published: May. 19, 2020 at 11:16 PM CDT
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With no known cure for the coronavirus, some are turning to the drug hydroxychloroquine, including President Donald Trump.


on Monday that he’s been taking the drug for more than a week as a preventative measure after multiple members of the White House staff tested positive for the virus. The same day, Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, said

that he and the president “concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent the coronavirus, but it has issued an

for it, which allows medical providers to use a product in an emergency, like a pandemic.

Dr. Dustin Arnold, UnityPoint–St. Luke’s chief medical officer, said he doesn’t recommend people take the drug as a preventative measure.

“Because that hasn’t shown to be a benefit,” Arnold said. “But it’s not of harm either, if you’re doing it under a doctor doing it, and the White House physician believes the benefit outweighs the risk, that’s very reasonable.”


in April that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause heart problems, including when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin. It cautioned these drugs’ use for COVID-19 should be limited to clinical trial settings or for treating certain hospitalized patients.

St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids has been doing that for some of its moderately-to-severely-ill patients, according to Arnold.

“We should save it for the people where the risk is less than — the benefit outweighs the risk. They’re really sick, so let’s try it. It’s hard to stand there and do nothing,” Arnold said.

At this point, he said it’s hard to tell what effect hydroxychloroquine has had on coronavirus patients.

“Our experience — it’s a small population — was that it may have been some benefit, but that’s not compared against a controlled trial or a placebo to really make that statistically significant,” Arnold said.

Hydroxychloroquine, which is only available with a prescription, is also more commonly used to treat people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The FDA posted

of the drug on March 31, which is still active, with some of its manufacturers reporting they have a limited supply because of increased demand for it.

Arnold said St. Luke’s prepared for that before starting the treatment for coronavirus patients.

“We looked at all the patients that get regular prescriptions, and we set aside that amount and protected it for them, and then what we had leftover, we used on the in-patient side, and we’ve had plenty. It hasn’t been a problem,” Arnold said.