Commentary: Looks like Rudy Giuliani is now advising Trump on COVID-19 and hydroxychloroquine. Yikes

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With the COVID-19 pandemic intensifying and the economy cratering, can the United States survive another injection of Rudy Giuliani?

It looks like we’re about to find out. The Washington Post reports that the former mayor of New York City is taking time off from his relentless pursuit of Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian hiding spot of the Democratic National Committee’s email server to become a medical researcher for President Trump.

That’s going to end well, I can just feel it.

According to the Post, Giuliani has been lobbying Trump in favor of treating COVID-19 with a cocktail of the controversial antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine and antibiotics that has been reported to be effective in a small number of patients — but ineffective in more rigorously designed studies. A lawyer by training, Giuliani told the Post that “he now spends his days on the phone with doctors, coronavirus patients and hospital executives promoting the treatment, which Trump has also publicly lauded.”

Granted, Giuliani is hardly the only Trump whisperer who is pushing drugs of dubious efficacy as a potential magic bullet. Seemingly every Fox News Channel personality has touted them. The president’s other favorite source of Trump-friendly journalism, One America News, has also given the drugs a full-throated endorsement, as has Elon Musk.

Trump has always been unusually welcoming to inexpert advice from perceived loyalists; witness the outsize role that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, plays in … everything, including the pandemic response. But Trump is particularly susceptible now, because the positions advocated by mainstream medical experts and embraced by a growing number of governors are sending the United States over an economic cliff.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that eight out of 10 U.S. counties accounting for nearly 96% of U.S. GDP have ordered residents to shutter all nonessential activities, cutting the country’s daily output by almost 30% in one month. Last week, economic forecaster IHS Markit predicted that the U.S. economy would shrink by 26.5% in the April-June quarter — a reduction three times larger than the worst seen during the last recession.

So Trump is caught in a really tough position of having to battle a killer disease with weapons that are wrecking the livelihoods of millions of Americans. It’s a challenge that would test even a deft executive, and Trump is under a lot of pressure to find an approach to the coronavirus that’s less toxic to commerce than the stay-at-home orders have been.

That’s where Giuliani and the other hydroxychloroquine advocates come in. Unlike some early critics of the state and local lockdowns, they’re not claiming that medical experts (and the media) are making a mountain out of a virus molehill. (That sort of argument isn’t very potent after the daily death toll crosses 1,000.) Instead, Team Hydroxychloroquine is suggesting that medical experts (and the media) are playing down what a “game changer” this drug could be, to borrow the president’s coinage.

And you know what? If there was an effective treatment for COVID-19 in plentiful supply, we could all go back to work, school, church and everything else we’ve been assiduously avoiding.

It’s certainly possible that hydroxychloroquine will prove to be the cure that Giuliani suggests that it is. Well, it will probably never be 100% effective, as Giuliani once claimed in a tweet that quoted another Trump supporter with no medical credentials, Charlie Kirk (Twitter forced the deletion of that one). But even if it’s effective in only 50% of the cases, that’s a heck of a lot better than where we are now.

The problem is that we don’t know anything about these drugs’ effectiveness against our current pandemic, at least not in a way the healthcare industry trusts. The skepticism from medical experts and the mainstream media stems from the fact that hydroxychloroquine hasn’t received any rigorous and scientifically testing yet as a treatment for COVID-19, although such tests are under way. The evidence in its favor comes either from anecdotes or from small trials using dubious methodologies; other small but better designed trials suggest the drug is ineffective.

One thing we do know is that the drugs aren’t plentiful enough to make them available to everyone who may need them. Already, the demand for hydroxychloroquine has caused shortages among the people who use it as directed to treat lupus (a potentially lethal autoimmune disease) and arthritis.

We may eventually be confident enough about a drug or drugs — be they hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir or another of the therapies now being tested — to be able to go back to the office and start rebuilding the economy. But we’re not there yet, and if Giuliani is telling Trump otherwise, heaven help us all.



Jon Healey is the Los Angeles Times’ deputy editorial page editor


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