PEORIA -- Healthcare professionals in Peoria now have another weapon in their arsenal in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.


"Over the weekend, UnityPoint Methodist received an allocation of Remdesivir, which is an antiviral medication which is currently being investigated in a number of clinical trials and has shown some early promise," said Dr. Praveem Sudhindra, an infectious disease specialist with UnityPoint Health, during the daily press conference at the Peoria City/County Health Department on Monday.


Though the efficacy of the medication as treatment for COVID-19 is still being researched, early results have provided some hope.


"It seems to shorten the duration of illness, and has shown some clinical improvement," said Sudhindra. "The trial that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine was still ongoing, but they said two-thirds of patients enrolled in that study seemed to show clinical improvement."


The medication, which was developed as a treatment for the Ebola virus, is in very short supply across the globe. UnityPoint Health - Methodist has received only enough to treat three to six patients, said Sudhindra.


"I give you that range because the duration of therapy depends on how sick they are. So if they are very sick patients we might have enough for three, but if they are not as sick we could treat as many as six," he said.


OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center also has received a supply of the experimental drug, said Sudhindra.


UnityPoint Health-Methodist currently has five COVID-19 patients, but none of them are eligible for the Remdesivir. Patients need to be on oxygen or a ventilator, and cannot be having organ failure to receive Remdesivir. One patient at Methodist is too sick to get the drug, and four are not sick enough, said Sudhindra, who did not know if any patients at Saint Francis have been given the drug.


Remdesivir is one of two experimental treatments showing some promise for the treatment of COVID-19. The second is convalescent plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19. The plasma contains antibodies which seem to help some patients mount a stronger immune response to the virus. Two patients at UnityPoint Health - Methodist have received convalescent plasma, said Sudhindra. One was on a ventilator but was already improving when they received plasma, so it’s not clear whether the treatment helped. The second patient received plasma about three days ago and is still very sick.


As of Monday afternoon, 240 residents of the Tri-County area had confirmed cases of COVID-19, said Monica Hendrickson, PCCHD administrator. Peoria County has 160 cases, Tazewell County has 63, and Woodford County has 17. Seventy-five percent of Tri-County cases have recovered, 17 percent are at home isolating, and three percent are in the hospital. Ten people have died.


Heartland Health Services drive thru COVID-19 testing sites in Peoria and Pekin have been seeing a lot of traffic, said Hendrickson.


"Heartland Health Services reports today at 3 p.m. another just amazing day of testing. A total of 261 tests were done between East Bluff and Pekin. In fact, East Bluff did 125 as of 3 p.m., and Pekin did 136 tests."


Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.