Trump’s mercurial maze of COVID-19

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President Trump reminds me of those manicured mazes I used to take my kids to where they would get lost in rows of unending paths leading nowhere. At some point, they would either find their way out of the maze or I would say it was time to go home.

The president has taken us on a wild and dizzying journey from diagnosis to discharge this past weekend beginning with his helicopter ride to Walter Reed Hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, continuing with a drive-by around the hospital, video reports by him on his own progress and conflicting media and medical accounts of his health followed by a dramatic, triumphant return to the White House. 

Every American should be thrilled by the president’s recovery and completely bewildered by the head-spinning nature of it. Not only did he flout his own government’s public health safety guidance, he has left the country reeling with confusion over masks, social distancing and medicine.

On October 2, the White House announced that Trump received an experimental antibody treatment after a test revealed his infection. At the time, he reportedly had mild COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and congestion, but we later learned he needed supplementary oxygen. Then the president’s medical team confirmed he had started a course of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug shown to modestly help hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Two days later, the team revealed Trump had been given a steroid normally reserved for severe COVID-19 cases.

His so-called “cocktail” of medications are not yet available to the public. If you probe the scientific literature, it says that experiments in both golden hamsters and rhesus macaques (also known as monkeys) that were intentionally infected with SARS-CoV-2 showed the cocktail could reduce viral levels and disease pathology. But to really know the outcome of the experiments, clinical trials have to proceed.

Regeneron, the maker of the cocktail, confirms that in order for humans to use this experimental drug, which is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a physician must request “compassionate use” of the treatment, which the president’s physicians did for Trump.

“This is not the first time we’ve done compassionate use for these monoclonal antibodies” said the CEO of Regeneron, Leonard Schleifer, adding that the move creates a tough situation for the company since other patients might now start requesting the experimental antibody therapy, which has not been approved for widespread use.

The president of the United States America should have every medical avenue available to him or her. But there is a certain irony in the “compassionate use” clause. 

I have yet to hear the president’s concern for the people who have died from COVID-19 and their friends, families and colleagues. At least 426 new coronavirus deaths and 42,223 new cases were reported in the United States on Oct. 5. Over the past week, there have been an average of 44,280 cases per day, an increase of 6 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Tuesday morning, more than 7,486,900 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 210,000 have died, according to a New York Times database

I have yet to hear the commander-in-chief be the prevention czar — offering preventive strategies such as masks, social distancing and adherence to the guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) On the contrary, I am led to believe that reckless behavior is a road to recovery. 

As for the president’s seeming disregard for all those people around the White House and around the country becoming infected with the virus and ineligible for “compassionate use” cocktails — I imagine him thinking “let them eat cake.”

As a citizen, I want my president to be healthy and strong. I want our democracy to be healthy and strong. And I want America to be its compassionate self, not a maze of norms that we find amazingly frustrating like those manufactured gardens.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and a fellow at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the CEO of Regeneron requested “compassionate use” of its drug treatment for the president. In fact, the president’s physicians made the request, which was approved by Regeneron and the FDA.

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC coronavirus Coronavirus disease COVID-19 drug development COVID-19 drug repurposing research Donald Trump FDA Occupational safety and health REGENERON Remdesivir

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