Doctors are changing strategies hourly to fight coronavirus in Florida’s hardest-hit areas

Medical teams using medication, different respiratory therapies to treat COVID-19

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With a COVID-19 vaccine months away, medical workers in Florida’s coronavirus hot zones are deploying different tactics to treat patients with severe cases of the respiratory illness.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that one of the No. 1 questions he and officials at the Florida Department of Health have been receiving is about what treatments are available.

“Obviously this is a novel virus, so there is not an approved treatment regimen,” DeSantis said.

To help explain what physicians in Florida counties are doing to combat the virus, the governor invited two people on the front lines to answer questions during a news briefing Monday.

Broward County has more than 2,200 cases of the virus, second only to Miami-Dade which is approaching 5,000. The two counties make up about half of the more than 14,500 cases in Florida.

A critical care doctor with Broward Health explained how he and other medical workers have been using already available medicines, along with different treatments to help some of the most severe cases they are seeing.

Dr. Sunil Kumar, who specializes in pulmonary medicine, said doctors are administering hydroxychloroquine, a drug approved to treat malaria and lupus, and the antibiotic known as Zithromax or Z-Pak.

DeSantis said he is working with the pharmaceutical company Teva to get more of both medications sent to Florida from India. More shipments are expected to Florida in the coming days, according to the governor.

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Kumar explained when COVID-19 patients are admitted, some are really sick and there aren’t many options. Doctors started trying to use hydroxychloroquine and Z-Pak and recently started administering some steroids as well.

“It’s medication that has been used for a long time. It’s been tested,” Kumar said of the FDA-approved malaria treatment.

That is the current treatment but Kumar stressed that medical teams are “changing strategies hour-by-hour.”

Kumar said his staff are using ventilators and other physical methods and seeing some results.

“Patients usually when they are sick, they are lying on their backs and intubated on a machine,” Kumar said.

He explained medical staff will allow a patient to spend six hours on their back and then rotate them to lay on their stomachs for awhile.

“This seems to be working,” Kumar said.

The reason for some different techniques, Kumar said, is that the novel coronavirus is behaving very differently than other diseases.

“I think we need to have every option, some of these patients are very, very sick,” Kumar said. “We are learning every day something new.”

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