SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah researchers are examining whether an oft-debated malaria medication can help stem the spread of COVID-19.

While it was originally suggested as a treatment for sicker patients, U. researchers are looking at hydroxychloroquine as a way to minimize spread in households when administered to those newly diagnosed with the virus.

Of Utah’s cases that occurred through known contacts, 59.4%, or 2,695 cases, were contracted through household spread, according to Utah Department of Health statistics.

“We’ve been asking the question whether or not hydroxychloroquine vs. placebo in outpatients newly diagnosed with COVID-19 can decrease viral replication,” said Dr. Rachel Hess, chief of the U. Division of Health System Innovation and Research.

Viral replication is measured in daily throat swabs, she said, “and then also surveying their household contacts with daily viral swabs as well to see if it decreases household transmission.”

“And the question that we’re asking is: Can hydroxychloroquine be effective earlier in the infection to decrease that viral shedding and decrease household contact acquisition?” Hess explained in a media briefing on Thursday.

The researchers are making sure that those who participate in the clinical trial aren’t taking other medications that, according to the Food and Drug Administration, could increase their risk.

Hess said enrollment into the trial has been “picking up slightly,” and researchers expect to have results within the next six to seven months.

Soon after the pandemic hit the U.S., hydroxychloroquine was touted by some, including President Donald Trump, as a possible treatment for the new coronavirus. Interest surrounding the drug prompted a state office in Utah to purchase $800,000 worth of the medication unbeknownst to the health department.

After the FDA cautioned against its use outside of hospitals or clinical trials — and the state’s purchase came to the light — the pharmaceutical company that had sold the drug issued a refund to Utah.

New Utah cases

Two more people died with COVID-19 in Utah, bringing the state’s toll to 80, officials confirmed Sunday.

The recent fatalities were both from Salt Lake County, a man between the ages of 60 and 85 who was hospitalized when he died; and a woman older than 85 who lived in a long-term care facility, the Utah Department of Health said.

In the Beehive State, 157 health care workers in long-term care facilities have contracted COVID-19 since the outbreak began, and 106 facilities have seen cases.

That’s according to new data released by the state health department.

In Salt Lake County, four facilities have seen at least five cases each of the disease — Highland Cove Assisted Living, Woodland Park, the Ridge Foothill Sr. Living and Aspen Ridge West. Provo’s Medallion Manor and Roy’s Heritage Park have also confirmed more than five cases.

In Utah, 188 long-term care residents have tested positive at some point during the pandemic, 31 of whom have died. They account for about 39% of the state’s deaths. No health care worker deaths have been reported.

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Of those who have died with the disease in Utah, 81.2% had at least one underlying condition, and 95% were considered “high risk.” The average of those who died is just over 72 years, according state health department data.

In Utah, 170 more people tested positive for the disease as of Sunday as just under 4,000 new tests were performed. The tests given since the pandemic began equal 170,753, with 7,238 of them positive — a rate of 4.2%.

Eight more people were also hospitalized with the virus since Saturday, bringing the total coronavirus patients currently in hospitals to 103 — a number that has stayed consistent for the past five days.

Just over 4,000 residents are considered recovered after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses.

The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 3,883; 339 hospitalized; 55 deaths.
  • Utah County, 1,497; 86 hospitalized; 11 deaths.
  • Summit County, 401; 36 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Davis County, 368; 31 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 226; 28 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 219; 16 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 202; 10 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • San Juan County, 198; 18 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
  • Tooele County, 93; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Bear River, 88; 13 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Central Utah, 30; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 19; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 14; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
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