Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Coronavirus drugs could fast-track Illinois restart plan

By Jim Hagerty

CHICAGO – Although the world is likely months, maybe a year or more, away from a coronavirus vaccine, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said an effective treatment to reduce hospitalizations and the number of COVID-19-related deaths could allow Illinois to fully reopen sooner than expected.

Without proven treatment for coronavirus disease, Illinois’ four regions will move through Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan starting May 29. The state is currently in Phase 2. And with each phase lasting 28 days, some social-distancing restrictions, including business closures, will remain in effect until Sept. 1, perhaps longer in regions with high infection and hospitalization rates.

Pritzker did not say which treatment may come available but more than one are in development. If just one comes online, Illinois’ five-phase plan could be fast-tracked, possibly shelved.

“I know everybody sees a vaccine is happening (but) who knows when?” the governor said during his Thursday press briefing. “But an effective treatment, I think is potentially on the horizon and that will change everything.”

One drug is hydroxychloroquine, the malaria medication President Donald Trump has touted and doctors have found some success with in less-severe cases of COVID-19. The other is Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir, which trials show can shorten the time of recovery by 31%.

Experts, including the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, say remdesivir, which is approved by regulators, blocks an enzyme the novel coronavirus uses to copy its genetic material inside the body.

Trump said he believes a coronavirus vaccine may be developed by the end of the year, although administering it millions of people will take many months.

“This plan can evolve,” Pritzker added. “I’ve said that we’re going to change the playbook if we need to, because things will change as we go forward. So I’m somewhat hopeful.”

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