COVID-19 Updates, April 7: Face Coverings, Testing, & Medications

It is common to feel overwhelmed about COVID-19: so much information changing day-to-day. Here are some of the important COVID-19 stories that may be applicable to people living with one or more chronic health conditions.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on April 7, 2020. Further developments in what we know about the coronavirus are continuously emerging.

COVID-19 Updates

CDC guidelines for cloth face coverings

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that people use cloth face coverings or masks in public based on new research. This is especially important when you are in areas where it is hard to stay at least 6 feet apart. Examples include the grocery store and pharmacies. The virus can be transmitted between people who are speaking, singing, sneezing and coughing.1

The cloth face masks are not to be mistaken with surgical masks or N-95 respirators that are needed to keep healthcare workers healthy. The CDC offers step-by-step instructions on how to wear cloth face coverings and how to make face masks using everyday items.1

FDA warnings about knock-off COVID-19 tests

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently studying COVID-19 tests and treatments. In order to get these tests on the market as fast as possible, the FDA has issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for products that would normally take years to be approved.

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Pharmaceutical company, Abbott, has been granted an EUA for a new COVID-19 test that only takes 5 minutes to give a positive test result and 13 minutes for a negative test result.2 See this article for more information about the test. Abbott predicts it will be able to deliver 50,000 of these tests daily. Abbott predicts it will be able to make 5 million of 2 approved COVID-19 tests in the U.S. in April.3

Unfortunately, there are also fake at-home tests that have appeared. The FDA is aggressively monitoring for these dangerous products. At this time, there are no approved at-home COVID-19 testing kits available. The FDA encourages everyone hearing about these tests to report them.4 If you think you may have COVID-19, talk with your doctor about approved testing options.

Chloroquine and COVID-19: Where do we stand?

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are drugs used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. The current focus on these drugs as a potential COVID-19 treatment is based on a single, small study from France. Of 80 hospitalized people with COVID-19 who took hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (an antibiotic), 93 percent tested negative for the virus 8 days later. While this sounds promising, the study has many limitations.5

Some doctors think these drugs may potentially slow the growth of the virus. Since there are no other treatments approved for COVID-19 at this time, the FDA granted an EUA for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. But, the drugs should only be used in emergency situations.6 Much more research is needed to find whether these drugs actually stop COVID-19.

Ibuprofen and blood pressure drugs

COVID-19 gets into human cells by linking with a specific protein called the ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) receptor. This protein is on the outside of cells in our respiratory tract. This is why COVID-19 causes lung-related symptoms.7

A few doctors have wondered if ibuprofen and ACE inhibitor and ARB (angiotensin II receptor blocker) blood pressure drugs could increase the amount of ACE2 in the body and thus increase the risk of a COVID-19 infection.8 Common ACE inhibitor drugs include captopril and lisinopril. Common ARB drugs include losartan and valsartan. These drugs are also used for heart failure, kidney disease, among other conditions.

However, several national heart organizations issued a joint statement to stress that people should keep taking their blood pressure drugs.9 Currently, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that these drugs put people at higher risk for a COVID-19 infection. If you take any of these drugs, do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.

Currently, the FDA reports that there is no scientific evidence linking ibuprofen and NSAIDs with worse COVID-19 outcomes.10

Editorial Note: On June 15, 2020, the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization (EUA) for chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The FDA found chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine ineffective in treating COVID-19, and that the serious side effects outweighed any potential benefits. Both drugs are still being studied in clinical trials. This announcement is meant to discourage doctors from prescribing these drugs off-label.11

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