PIERRE, S.D. — A study of a controversial drug as a potential treatment of COVID-19 has not proven effective, but the study will continue to see if may keep those who have been exposed to the coronavirus from developing COVID-19 symptoms.

South Dakota became the first state with a comprehensive, statewide clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating and preventing COVID-19 last month. The study involved Sanford Health and Monument Health patients.

Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health's chief medical officer, provided an update on the hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness on COVID-19 on Thursday, May 28. The update comes after the World Health Organization’s suspension of clinical trials on the drug to treat patients with COVID-19, including hospitalized patients.

Suttle spoke at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem, who wanted to address the misinformation she’s been receiving regarding the clinical trials and use of the drug.

Hydroxychloroquine which has been used to treat other illnesses, such as malaria and rheumatoid arthritis, was used on 270 South Dakotans who had tested positive for COVID-19. But as the drug proved ineffective and sometimes worsened the condition of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, the trial drew criticism.

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Suttle said that what was learned early on makes the clinical trial’s continuation that much more important, saying that hydroxychloroquine could be used at a different stage of the illness.

The clinical trial will continue with people who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and haven’t tested positive for COVID-19. They could be positive but asymptomatic.

Placebos are also used in this clinical trial to determine whether the drug can help prevent someone who has been exposed to the virus from getting sick.

Participants will include health care workers and high-risk individuals who have been exposed to someone with a confirmed COVID-19 positive test within the past five days – either as close contact in the community or as a health care worker. They include:

  • Employees of any health care organization in South Dakota,

  • Residents of South Dakota, regardless of health care provider

  • Any Sanford Health employee, regardless of state

  • Any patient or facility resident of Sanford Health, regardless of state

Other requirements include:

  • No known COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat)

  • Must be at least 18 years old

  • For non-health-care workers, they must have one or more of the risk factors listed below

Early on in the clinical trial, South Dakotans who tested positive for COVID-19 could be treated with hydroxychloroquine upon the recommendation of their physician.

Sutton said that as the trial moves forward, hydroxychloroquine could be a promising preventative treatment of COVID-19.

Those enrolled in the trial will receive a five day pack of either placebos or hydroxychloroquine pills, much like a Tamiflu prescription pack.

Meridian Clinical Research, a Omaha based pharmaceutical research company, is conducting research studies of investigational vaccines intended to protect against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to a press release on the company’s website.

Studies will begin in Nebraska, Georgia and South Dakota.

Dakota Dunes will be the site of the South Dakota study.

Eligible participants will receive compensation for participating and are not required to have health insurance.

Meridian is currently seeking sponsors to fund the COVID-19 vaccine studies.

Until a treatment or prevention is developed, South Dakota’s number of COVID-19 cases will increase.

As of Thursday, May 28, the state added four active positive cases for a total of 1,037.

Four more people have been hospitalized since Wednesday, bringing the total of current hospitalizations to 105.

A total of 406 COVID-19 positive cases have ever been hospitalized

The number of deaths remained unchanged at 54. .

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