Trump, DeSantis, tout malaria drug in COVID-19 fight while doctors remain cautious

Adding to calls from the president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is stepping up calls to treat COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine.

During his daily briefing on coronavirus on Tuesday, the governor played a testimonial from an anonymous patient from Broward County who was in pretty rough shape.

Without explaining the specifics of his case, the patient said on the recorded message that the medicine was his last hope. He added, "You guys saved my life, and you know you did."

The governor indicated the man was treated with hydroxychloroquine and that he had ordered more doses for South Florida. 

MAP: Florida coronavirus cases by county

A doctor on webcam spoke positively about its impact on those who started out very sick, but noted that, "It is being tested, we are not sure if it will work."

The governor then asked: "You do think though having that as an option, you'd like to have that as a physician to treat folks who come in with it?" The doctor responded with, "Absolutely.”

Doctors at Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida cautioned there are risks associated with using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. "In times of crisis, we see what we want to see,” said Dr. Jason Wilson of TGH.

Overall, the drug has safely treated malaria, which may have similar characteristics to COVID-19.  

The FDA issued an emergency use order, making it an option for adults and adolescents hospitalized with the virus, but without a study, it's hard to pinpoint its impact.

"We lose the opportunity to collect good data and demonstrate a clear, powerful impact of the drug,” said Wilson.

Two studies in France have contradicted one another, and a third in China didn't meet FDA standards. 

The biggest concern is side effects, especially on those with heart and vision problems.

"You have to follow the science,” said Dr. Michael Teng of USF Health. “You have to be careful about the potential benefit, but also the side effects, the negative side effects." 

The FDA’s guidelines make it clear that taking hydroxychloroquine is the patient's decision. 

President Trump spoke about it during his briefing on Tuesday. "Doctors have to recommend it. I am not a doctor,” he said. “I am saying we hear great results. Some people say let’s go to a laboratory lets test it for a couple of years, no, we have people dying in this country and all over the world right now."

Doctors told Fox 13 it could take over a year for an FDA study to be completed.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map