Trump picked up on the results, tweeting on March 21 that the cocktail could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” despite skepticism voiced by his own scientific advisors — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Trump would later announce that he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative and declare that it “doesn’t kill people,” though he once cautioned that people with heart problems should avoid azithromycin.
Anecdotal reports of success, however thin, offered a glimmer of hope to New York, which had more active COVID-19 cases than any other state in the country.
On March 23, Cuomo, already facing 20,000 cases, signed an executive order allowing people who tested positive for COVID-19 to receive hydroxychloroquine in state-approved clinical trials.
“The president is optimistic,” said Cuomo at the time. “We don’t know, but let’s find out.”
Days later, a group of city and state politicians from Staten Island criticized the move as inadequate in a letter to the governor, noting that the order effectively banned the drugs from nursing facilities except for clinical trials.
Cuomo quickly amended the order, allowing use in nursing homes with subacute care units, such as St. Albans, and lifting the positive-test requirement. Cuomo’s office did not respond to questions for this story.
‘Possible Drug Toxicity’
It’s unknown what guidance, if any, the state gave nursing homes regarding how to administer the medications. Responding to a state Freedom of Information Law request, the health department was unable to locate any such guidance, advisories or requirements.
In an April 2 presentation for health care providers, the department acknowledged a “possible drug toxicity” for hydroxychloroquine.
World War II veteran James Hutcherson died at age 93.
The FDA’s emergency authorization, issued the same week as Cuomo’s orders, raised similar questions about safety and efficacy. Two former FDA commissioners openly condemned the move, asserting that the lack of supportive evidence undermined the agency’s credibility.
But growing concerns did not stop the drug’s use. Nationally, new hydroxychloroquine prescriptions were more than three times higher last April, compared to the same month in 2019.
Some doctors, desperate for any possible aid, used both drugs until clear evidence emerged of their ineffectiveness.
One New York-based veterans doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the possibility of benefit outweighed the risk. A geriatrician, who also declined to be named, said condemning such use equated to “Monday morning quarterbacking.”
Other doctors used hydroxychloroquine only with heart monitoring or refused to combine it with azithromycin because of the added risk.