Government coronavirus response updates: Senator demands information on distribution of hydroxychloroquine drug

Posted on: May 7th, 2020 by ABC News No Comments

Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — After President Donald Trump reversed course for winding down for the White House coronavirus task force, saying he had “no idea” how “popular” and “respected” it had become, the president teased that his administration will adding a few more members to the panel next week, whom he suggested will bring economic expertise on “opening our country.”

The announcement came ahead of another dire jobless claims report Thursday morning. More than 33 million Americans had now filed for unemployment since the deadly pandemic shuttered doors to businesses and forced most Americans to stay home.

As more states begin to ease restrictions, even as the country’s infection rate continues to climb, many Americans grapple with uncertainty, faced with the fearful choice between life and livelihood.

The president himself has conceded more lives will likely be lost in the push to reopen the U.S. economy but continues to insist “it’s time to get our country back.”

While Trump pushes for a quick economic revival and paints a rosy picture of the administration’s response to COVID-19, which has now claimed over 73,000 lives on U.S. soil, the public is hearing much less from some of the task force’s key health experts, and more from the White House press secretary.

Here are Thursday’s most significant developments in Washington:

Senator demands more information on hydroxychloroquine from Azar, after Trump adminsitration officials pushed the unproven drug on COVID-19 patients

A top Senate Democrat is demanding information from the Trump administration on efforts to distribute an anti-malarial drug to help states fight the coronavirus before it was rigorously vetted as a potential treatment.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Health and Human Services, asked Secretary Alex Azar to provide details to Congress on the distribution of hydroxychloroquine, according to a new letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.

Throughout March and April, Trump and top administration officials touted the potential benefits of the anti-malarial drug, prompting a surge in demand for the drug. Some Republican and Democratic governors across the country also promoted its potential efficacy in treating COVID-19, despite a lack of clear scientific evidence.

In late April, the Food and Drug Administration warned of potentially serious side effects, and a preliminary study of the drug’s use in early stages found a higher rate of death among patients using hydroxychloroquine compared to those who did not. (The study, funded by grants from the University of Virginia and the National Institutes of Health had yet to be reviewed by other scientists at the time of its release.)

“It has become clear that the process was driven mainly — if not solely — by politics, and may have placed some COVID-19 patients in danger,” Murray wrote.

Murray, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, asked HHS for information on how the drug was distributed from the national stockpile, and whether the FDA plans to change its emergency use policy.

The Washington Democrat isn’t alone in raising concerns, Dr. Rick Bright, a former senior health official in the administration, alleged in a new complaint that he was removed from his post at the agency responsible for vaccine development after resisting efforts from political leaders at HHS to promote hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment.

Administration decides against issuing further formal, detailed guidance for states and business owners on reopening

The Trump administration has decided against issuing additional formal guidelines for states and business owners on best practices for reopening, according to multiple officials.

A task force official defended the decision to ABC News, saying that “overly specific instructions” beyond the already-issued guidelines on a phased reopening would be unhelpful and noting that the onus is on the states to make case-by-case decisions as best for their community.

This decision comes after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recently told governors about draft guidelines in the works, but even as these guidelines have been under recent consideration, a task force official had said there was always a possibility that they would not ultimately be issued.

Many of the states that are now moving to begin reopening haven’t met phase one of the “gating criteria” for reopening but are still being cheered on by Trump, who has grown increasingly eager to move forward with the reopening process.

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