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South Dakota continues malaria drug trial despite FDA alert

April 24, 2020 GMT
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FILE - This April 8, 2020, file photo, shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday, April 23, 2020, released a memo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressing the Smithfield pork processing plant where over 800 workers contracted the coronavirus, saying she hoped the plant will reopen as soon as possible. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)
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FILE - This April 8, 2020, file photo, shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday, April 23, 2020, released a memo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressing the Smithfield pork processing plant where over 800 workers contracted the coronavirus, saying she hoped the plant will reopen as soon as possible. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota health officials said Friday that they will continue to make a malaria drug widely available to treat COVID-19, even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against its use outside of hospital and research settings.

In an alert, regulators flagged reports of serious side effects and death among patient s taking hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine. Gov. Kristi Noem has pushed for doctors to be able to use hydroxychloroquine, creating a statewide clinical trial as well as making it available to COVID-19 patients if their doctor advises taking it.

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South Dakota received 1.2 million doses of the drug from the Strategic National Stockpile after President Donald Trump championed it as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said plans for the trial were moving forward and the drug would still be available to COVID-19 patients if their doctor advises it.

The trial, which is planned by Sanford Health, would administer smaller doses of the drug to health care workers and people vulnerable to COVID-19 as a preventive measure. Participation in the trial is voluntary.

Susan Hoover, an infectious disease physician at Sanford Health, said its physicians are aware of the potential of both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic sometimes administered with the malaria medication, to disrupt heart rhythms. The are closely monitoring patients who receive the drugs.

Noem has said that the state has enough of the medication to treat 100,000 patients. The state is also pitching in funding for the trial.

The governor’s spokeswoman Maggie Seidel said that the final amount of funding from the state has not yet been determined and that it would come out of federal funding for addressing the coronavirus.

South Dakota health officials reported one more death from COVID-19 on Friday as the total number of confirmed cases surpassed 2,000.

Almost 90% of the confirmed cases were reported in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, which both contain parts of the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls.

Noem said on Friday she will extend an executive order for two more weeks, telling people in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties to stay home if they are vulnerable to COVID-19 as cases.

A Smithfield pork processing plant was the epicenter of the outbreak in the city, with more than 1,000 cases tied to the plant.

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said on Friday that he has no timeline for the plant’s reopening, according to the Argus Leader. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has toured the facility and created a list of recommendations for Smithfield to prevent another outbreak.

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Associated Press writer Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed to this report.