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Senate President Stuart Adams was puzzled after a meeting between Senate Republicans and Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday. Why isn’t the state doing more to get monoclonal antibody treatment to high-risk Utahns who have been infected with COVID-19?
“I can’t figure out why we haven’t heard more about them,” Adams, R-Layton, said during a phone conversation on Thursday afternoon.
Cox’s meeting with Senate Republicans comes after conversations with House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Democrats on Wednesday to discuss how to address a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.
Monoclonal antibodies are artificially-created proteins that mimic the body’s natural immune reaction. The therapy is under emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The treatment can reduce the risk of severe illness and hospitalization in high-risk people who are infected with COVID.
State health officials reported 1,687 new cases of the virus Thursday, which is the most in a single day since January. The 7-day average is more than 1,300, the highest since February. There were 12 Utahns who died from the virus, per Thursday’s report, including a teenager in Salt Lake County.
Cox and legislators have made no progress on reversing the state’s ban on local schools’s ability to mandate mask-wearing in classrooms, even as Utah reported Thursday that 413 school-aged children tested positive for COVID-19.
Cox made passing mention of monoclonal antibody treatments, also known as Regeneron, but Adams thinks there’s more that could be done.
“There’s plenty of the drug available. Why aren’t we hearing about this? We need to stand up a process to facilitate these treatments. The state should be using this treatment more than we are,” Adams said.
Florida has opened up 21 clinics to provide Regeneron treatment to patients at no cost. One Florida hospital system is crediting a decline in hospital admissions to the availability of the treatment.
Adams thinks making the treatment more widely available is a positive step Cox and state health officials can take now to help reduce the pressure on hospitals that have been pushed to the breaking point by COVID patients.
“We’ll reduce the number of fatalities and hospitalizations. We need to start using this more because it will keep people out of the hospital,” Adams said.
“It’s not THE answer, but it has to be part of the answer,” he added.
Cox decided to meet with lawmakers this week to discuss how to respond to an increase in virus infections in Utah’s public schools as students return to the classroom. Cox had floated the idea of an emergency order to require masks but worried any such action would be overturned by lawmakers.
Adams is staunchly opposed to a statewide mask mandate for schoolchildren and leans hard on the process implemented by lawmakers earlier this year that requires local health departments to make the call instead of local education authorities, with county governments having veto power. Utah is under federal investigation for not allowing schools to enact mask mandates.
“We want that process to work. If the county health departments see a problem, they can react in conjunction with the county governments,” Adams said.
Grand County has a mask requirement for K-6 students, and masks will be required in Summit County schools if the number of coronavirus infections reaches a certain threshold. Salt Lake County health officials attempted to impose a mask requirement, but that was overruled by the GOP-controlled county council.
Projections from the Utah Department of Health show, if COVID infections in school-aged children increase at the same rate as last year after students returned to the classroom, Utah could see nearly 350 new infections every day and seven or eight hospitalizations each week for the first month.
“I have total confidence our county health departments and councils will do the right thing if the number of infections start rising,” said Adams, who has a history of embracing novel treatments for COVID.
In 2020, Adams supported the state spending $800,000 on 20,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medicine that some suggested could be an effective treatment for the virus. That drug offers no therapeutic use against COVID and the Utah pharmacist who brought the hydroxychloroquine to Utah later pleaded guilty to having imported it illegally from China.