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With a bottle of hand sanitizer on a table, foreground, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announces a state of emergency amid coronavirus fears at a news conference on March 12, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP) With a bottle of hand sanitizer on a table, foreground, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announces a state of emergency amid coronavirus fears at a news conference on March 12, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP)

With a bottle of hand sanitizer on a table, foreground, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announces a state of emergency amid coronavirus fears at a news conference on March 12, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke March 27, 2020

Conservative group's meme distorts Nevada’s chloroquine restrictions

If Your Time is short

  • A Nevada emergency regulation restricts the prescription of chloroquine for COVID-19 patients in outpatient settings, but not in hospitals and emergency rooms. 

  • Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the order on the recommendation of state health officials, who said there is the potential for stockpiling the drug.

  • Federal regulators say the effectiveness of chloroquine in treating COVID-19 is anecdotal, and more research and clinical trials are needed.

A malaria drug that could potentially be used to treat COVID-19 has become the latest political touchpoint of the coronavirus pandemic.

A meme published on Facebook by Turning Point USA, a conservative group that targets high school and college students, claims Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak bucked doctors’ recommendations and outlawed the use of chloroquine to treat the coronavirus.

"WHAT?! Nevada’s Leftist Governor Has Banned The Use Of An Anti-Malaria Drug That Might Help Cure Coronavirus!" reads the caption on the meme, which was posted March 25, 2020. "Big Government Is Deadly!"

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It has been shared more than 10,000 times.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

We’ve seen a lot of confusion about chloroquine, which is also prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and its application to COVID-19. So we wanted to check out Turning Point USA’s post.

While Sisolak has limited the prescription of chloroquine for coronavirus patients, the move isn’t a ban — and his order didn’t contradict doctors’ advice about the drug, as this post suggests. Health officials and federal regulators have urged caution when using the drug to treat COVID-19 until more research is done. The order is also intended to prevent hoarding, so patients who need the drug still have access to it. 

Regulation exempts hospitals, emergency rooms

Sisolak has restricted prescribing chloroquine for COVID-19. But the order has an exemption for doctors issuing the drug to patients in hospitals and emergency rooms.

On March 24, Sisolak, a Democrat, signed an emergency regulation that safeguards the supply of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which is sold under the brand name Plaquenil and as a generic. The order prohibits doctors in outpatient settings from prescribing and dispensing the drugs for COVID-19 treatment. It also limits prescriptions to 30-day supplies.

"While the two drugs serve necessary medical purposes, there is no conclusive evidence at this time among COVID-19 experts or Nevada’s own medical health advisory team that the drugs provide treatment for COVID-19 patients," Sisolak said during a press conference. "The emergency regulation is aimed at preventing the hoarding of the drugs so those that actually need them can have access to them."

Sisolak’s order came after President Donald Trump touted the potential of chloroquine in treating COVID-19 patients during a March 19 press conference, saying it could be a "game changer" and a "tremendous breakthrough."

RELATED: Timeline: How Donald Trump responded to the coronavirus pandemic

News outlets first reported that Sisolak’s action was a ban on using chloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. But that coverage missed a key fact: there is an exemption.

A spokesman for Sisolak told KSNV-TV in Las Vegas that the regulation allows for a "chart order for an inpatient in an institutional setting," meaning that doctors in hospitals and emergency rooms can still prescribe chloroquine to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The Associated Press, for one, corrected its initial story on the order to reflect that exemption.

So while Sisolak’s order does restrict the prescription of chloroquine in Nevada, it does not constitute an outright ban, as Turning Point USA’s meme claims.

Health officials pushed for chloroquine restrictions 

Nevada health officials advocated for restricting chloroquine prescriptions given the potential for hoarding. That’s different from Turning Point USA’s post, which makes it look like Sisolak disregarded physicians’ recommendations by issuing the emergency regulation.

Featured Fact-check

In a March 20 letter, the state’s Board of Pharmacy noted that "safety and efficacy have not been established" for the use of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19. Its guidance allowed for the use of chloroquine to treat coronavirus patients, but only as treatment — not prevention.

"In the effort to prevent the stockpiling of these medications, the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy is restricting the dispensing of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine," wrote J. David Wuest, executive secretary of the board.

RELATED: Fact-checking COVID-19 prevention, treatment myths

As several news outlets have reported, physicians around the country have started to fraudulently prescribe themselves chloroquine in order to hoard it for their families. That hoarding has led to drug shortages in some parts of the country, affecting patients who take chloroquine regularly to treat conditions like lupus and arthritis.

Still, Sisolak’s order was quickly criticized by organizations like Turning Point USA and politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who tweeted March 25 that the governor was "trying to score political points against Trump."

Effectiveness against COVID-19 is unproven 

Turning Point USA’s meme makes it seem like chloroquine is a potential cure for the coronavirus. But the science is not settled.

Trump’s March 19 remarks on chloroquine were based on a recent French study that found the malaria drug could be effective in treating patients with COVID-19. The authors, which include researchers from universities in France and Vietnam, concluded that the use of chloroquine sped up healing, and the effect was reinforced by adding azithromycin, an antibiotic. 

But the study was based on only 20 people in France with COVID-19, and public health experts quickly put the findings into perspective.

On March 19, the Food and Drug Administration published a statement in which it said that while "there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19," the agency is investigating whether chloroquine "can be used to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 to potentially reduce the duration of symptoms."

During a press conference on March 20, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also tempered expectations for the malaria drug, saying the French study was based on anecdotal evidence.

RELATED: A 100% COVID-19 cure? No, chloroquine effectiveness only anecdotal

"The information that you're referring to specifically is anecdotal; it was not done in a controlled clinical trial," Fauci told a reporter. "So you really can't make any definitive statement about it."

Based on that limited data, chloroquine is recommended for treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in several countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is "currently under investigation in clinical trials."

We reached out to Turning Point USA for a comment, but we haven’t heard back.

Our ruling

Turning Point USA said in a Facebook post that Sisolak banned the use of chloroquine for COVID-19 against doctors’ recommendations.

Nevada’s emergency regulation restricts the prescription of chloroquine for COVID-19 patients in outpatient settings, but not in hospitals and emergency rooms. Sisolak signed the order on the recommendation of state health officials, who said the safety and efficacy of chloroquine in treating the coronavirus is unproven, and there is a potential for stockpiling the drug.

While the Facebook post touts the potential of chloroquine in curing COVID-19, federal health officials and regulators have said that, as of now, the effectiveness of the drug is anecdotal. More research and clinical trials are needed before drawing a conclusion.

Turning Point USA’s post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Associated Press, "AP FACT CHECK: Trump's Breathless Takes on Drugs for Virus," March 21, 2020

Associated Press, "Malaria Drugs' Promise for Coronavirus Spurs Hope, Shortages," March 23, 2020

Associated Press, "Nevada governor bars gatherings of more than 10 people," March 25, 2020

BuzzFeed News, "A Woman With Lupus Said Her Health Care Provider Is Stopping Her Chloroquine Prescription And Thanked Her For The ‘Sacrifice,’" March 25, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for Clinicians on Therapeutic Options for COVID-19 Patients, accessed March 26, 2020

C-SPAN, "President Trump and Coronavirus Task Force Brief Reporters," March 19, 2020

C-SPAN, "President Trump and Coronavirus Task Force Hold News Conference," March 20, 2020

Facebook post, March 25, 2020

Facebook video from Gov. Steve Sisolak, March 24, 2020

Food and Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Continues to Facilitate Development of Treatments, March 19, 2020

KSNV-TV, "Gov. Sisolak reiterates position on potential coronavirus drug," March 26, 2020

Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Sisolak signs restriction order for 2 drugs," March 25, 2020

Mediterranee Infection, "Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a treatment of COVID-19: results of an open-label non-randomized clinical trial," March 18, 2020

Nevada State Board of Pharmacy, "Guidance on the Dispensing of Prescriptions for Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine in Response to COVID-19," March 20, 2020

The New York Times, "States Say Some Doctors Stockpile Trial Coronavirus Drugs, for Themselves," March 24, 2020

PolitiFact, "A 100% COVID-19 cure? No, chloroquine effectiveness only anecdotal," March 23, 2020

PolitiFact, "Drinking chloroquine fish-tank cleaner won’t stop the coronavirus. It might kill you," March 24, 2020

ProPublica, "Doctors Are Hoarding Unproven Coronavirus Medicine by Writing Prescriptions for Themselves and Their Families," March 24, 2020

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Conservative group's meme distorts Nevada’s chloroquine restrictions

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