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With gowns and masks in short supply, researchers test drugs to prevent COVID-19 infections in health care workers

The University of Minnesota plans to test hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 infections in the nation’s frontline health-care workers

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By Jaimy Lee

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Similar trials are under way in Australia , where they are testing a tuberculosis vaccine in health care workers; France , where a hospital near Lyon is also testing AbbVie Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202428675/composite ABBV +2.27%  HIV drug Kaletra; Spain ; and the Netherlands , according to ClinicalTrials.gov.

Hydroxychloroquine isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat or prevent COVID-19 infections; however, the regulator recently used its emergency powers to allow chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to be used in clinical trials for COVID-19 and to treat some patients who have been sickened by the virus given the lack of proven therapies available to treat the disease.

As outbreaks have worsened in certain regions, hospitals have been faced with an evolving set of policies around who should come to work. The University of Chicago Medicine hospital system said last week that workers who had been exposed to the virus but haven’t tested positive or exhibited symptoms were being brought back to the job.

Rosemarie Yetman-Arac, an emergency room nurse at Mount Sinai, has been home sick for the better part of two weeks. She’s unsure whether she contracted COVID-19 although she has been caring for COVID-19 patients and had worked closely with Kious Kelly, whom she said was a mentor to her. Yetman-Arac said that hospitals aren’t testing frontline health-care workers like herself for the virus; however, she noted that doing so and then keeping workers who aren’t presenting symptoms home would likely create staffing gaps.

“We as a nation have been struggling with PPE,” she said. “It’s a no-brainer to me that there are tons of hospital workers who are probably asymptomatic because we have pretty strong immune systems in general.”

Read: Traffic at Walmart, Costco and Target falls for the first time in weeks as coronavirus stockpiling behavior shifts

Thousands of health care workers around the globe have been sickened by the virus, including at least 3,300 health care workers in China, 20% of the frontline clinicians in Italy, and more than 12,000 health care workers in Spain.

The age of U.S. health care workers also raises specific concerns. About 20% of the registered nurses who work in hospitals are between the ages of 55 and 64 years old, and about 30% of doctors who practice across both acute and non-acute care settings are older than 55, according to a JAMA viewpoint published March 30. With the California New York governors asking that retired health care workers return to practice, those percentages may grow.

“Should these older nurses and physicians become infected and required to stay home, or if they become patients, the ramifications could be significant, not only in terms of the loss of their clinical expertise and presence when it is needed the most, but the loss of leadership, judgment, and maintaining morale,” researchers wrote.

Health care providers in the U.S. are scrambling to find enough PPE, which includes gowns, gloves, respirators and masks, to protect the workers caring for COVID-19 patients. National Nurses United, a union representing about 150,000 registered nurses, on Thursday sent a letter to President Trump asking him to use the Defense Production Act to require more manufacturing of these products. Physicians are also concerned about access to PPE; a recent survey of roughly 2,600 physicians that was conducted by physician-networking site Doximity Inc. found that three-fourths of them don’t believe their hospital or clinic has adequate medical supplies and equipment if the pandemic worsens.

A collaboration between Amgen Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209157011/composite AMGN +1.22%  and Adaptive Biotechnologies Corp. /zigman2/quotes/212846591/composite ADPT -2.11%  to develop antibodies that fight COVID-19 infections may also have potential to protect health care workers, the companies said this week. Vir Biotechnology Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/214486077/composite VIR -1.27%  COVID-19 antibody development program has a similar focus on preventing infections in health care workers and others at high risk of contracting the virus.

The health care sector has outperformed the broader stock market this year, as the SPDR Health Care Select Sector exchange-traded fund /zigman2/quotes/205918244/composite XLV +1.98%  has declined 14.8% year to date while the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.34%  has dropped 23.0%.

/zigman2/quotes/202428675/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 98.87
+2.19 +2.27%
Volume: 6.53M
July 14, 2020 4:02p
P/E Ratio
17.50
Dividend Yield
4.77%
Market Cap
$172.46 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.09M
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/zigman2/quotes/209157011/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 253.09
+3.05 +1.22%
Volume: 2.34M
July 14, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
19.83
Dividend Yield
2.53%
Market Cap
$147.09 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.11M
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/zigman2/quotes/212846591/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 43.25
-0.93 -2.11%
Volume: 1.14M
July 14, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$5.61 billion
Rev. per Employee
N/A
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/zigman2/quotes/214486077/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 49.58
-0.64 -1.27%
Volume: 947,256
July 14, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$6.28 billion
Rev. per Employee
N/A
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/zigman2/quotes/205918244/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE Arca
$ 103.29
+2.01 +1.98%
Volume: 10.83M
July 14, 2020 4:00p
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/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,197.52
+42.30 +1.34%
Volume: 2.58B
July 14, 2020 4:20p
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Jaimy Lee is a health-care reporter for MarketWatch. She is based in New York.

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