Noem Taps Top Career Donor to Conduct Statewide Hydroxychloroquine Study

Sanford Health, the South Dakota governor’s top donor, will offer the drug to coronavirus patients in the state, many of whom are from a meatpacking plant’s immigrant workforce.

Noem Taps Top Career Donor to Conduct Statewide Hydroxychloroquine Study
Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on December 16, 2019 in Washington, DC.

South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem is one of the only governors that has not issued a stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Now, coronavirus cases in the state have surged and a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls with a large immigrant workforce has become the largest coronavirus hotspot in the country. 

As a response to the outbreak, Noem announced she is launching a statewide clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that President Trump has repeatedly promoted during his daily press events.

“For the past week, I have been in direct contact with the White House, with President Trump’s team, spoken with Vice President Pence, Jared Kushner, the chief of staff, many within the task force on making sure that they knew what we wanted to do here in South Dakota,” Noem said at a press conference on Monday. “This would be the first-ever state-endorsed, state-backed, statewide clinical trial available in the United States to help take care of our people here.”

South Dakota’s trial will have two components: all coronavirus patients in the state—44% of whom are from the meatpacking plant’s immigrant workforce—will have the option to take hydroxychloroquine, and a randomized placebo-controlled trial will be conducted for people who have been exposed to the virus.

While there is anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine can be helpful, there is also reason to be cautious with the drug. In Brazil, a trial of a related drug, chloroquine, was recently halted after coronavirus patients developed potentially fatal heart arrhythmias. And in the U.S., while a number of federal agencies are currently facilitating clinical trials, coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that very high doses of the drug are used for coronavirus patients and the toxicities are not yet known. 

To conduct the South Dakota trial, Noem has enlisted a corporation that has invested heavily in her political career: Sanford Health, a Sioux Falls-headquartered rural healthcare system that is one of the largest in the U.S. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanford Health was Noem’s top career campaign donor during her years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It’s unclear how much Sanford Health will be paid to conduct the trial, but initial funding will come from the state and Noem told reporters that the state could also tap into federal coronavirus relief money to fund the study.

From 2010-2018, Noem received more than $100,000 from individuals affiliated with Sanford Health, far more than she received from any other contributor. Corporations, including those like Sanford Health that include nonprofits and private entities, cannot legally donate to candidates, so the Center for Responsive Politics tallies contributions from company’s employees as well as through company’s PACs, which are funded by employees.