Reason Roundup

What Is Dexamethasone? A Potentially Life-Saving Treatment for Seriously Ill COVID-19 Patients

Plus: The U.S. Supreme Court stops an execution at the last minute, a senator argues that you shouldn't get HBO GO for free, and more...


A much-needed bit of good news in the global fight against COVID-19 emerged Tuesday, as researchers in England announced that a cheap and readily available drug is an effective life-saving treatment for some of the most seriously ill patients.

The drug, dexamethasone, has reduced deaths by one-third among patients who were sick enough to require a ventilator to breathe, according to an Oxford University study. Less severely ill patients receiving supplemental oxygen have also improved after receiving dexamethasone, researchers found, but the drug's effectiveness seems to wane when used on patients with mild symptoms. The scientists who announced the study's findings on Tuesday said they would expect dexamethasone to save one life for every eight patients treated while using a breathing machine.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used for decades to treat a wide range of immune system disorders and inflammation issues, including lupus, arthritis, and severe allergies—though it can also have some nasty side effects.

Britain's health secretary immediately authorized hospitals in the country to begin using dexamethasone. The drug is widely available, cheap, and familiar to most doctors, which should allow it to have an "immediate impact" on reducing the number of coronavirus deaths, Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told CNBC.

The announcement about dexamethasone came just one day after the FDA withdrew an emergency use authorization for another drug, hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump had speculated could be a cure for COVID-19.

Is dexamethasone the long-awaited breakthrough that will finally curb the pandemic? Probably not, as only a vaccine or sufficient herd immunity will stop the spread of COVID-19.

Still, if further studies and wider use of the drug bear out the initial results, it is terrific news that will reduce the virus's toll on humanity. Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, late last year, COVID-19 has killed an estimated 440,000 people, including more than 110,000 in the United States.


The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of Ruben Gutierrez on Tuesday night because prison authorities in Texas would not allow a priest to be in the execution chamber as Gutierrez was killed.

The late-breaking stay may allow time for a more important challenge to Gutierrez's sentence to get another look. Gutierrez was convicted of the 1998 murder of Escolastica Harrison, an 85-year old woman, during a robbery. He had admitted to being involved in the robbery but denies that he killed Harrison, and his attorneys argue that DNA evidence linking him to the crime has never been properly tested. In June, a federal district judge ruled that Gutierrez's planned execution should be put on hold until that testing can be done, but an appeals court overturned that decision and lifted the stay. The Supreme Court's decision to stop Gutierrez's did not touch on the DNA issues.


Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) thinks people getting HBO for free on their phones is a problem worthy of congressional attention. In a letter to the chairman of AT&T, Markey accuses the company of harming consumers, stifling competition, and violating net neutrality (which was, of course, repealed a while ago) by giving its customers unrestricted access to HBO's streaming service.

That's a bunch of nonsense, explains Daniel Lyons, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute:

Subscribers normally receive a certain amount of data from the carrier each month for a fee. But with zero-rating, AT&T subscribers receive the same amount of data, plus unlimited HBO Max, for the same price. It is difficult to argue that consumers are somehow harmed when a company enhances consumers' purchasing power by offering them additional content at no extra charge. […]

These bundling opportunities can also enhance competition among streaming services. HBO Max is a relatively new product, attempting to gain market share in an increasingly crowded market for streaming services. By offering the product at a discount to AT&T customers, HBO Max can increase its profile and attract customers.


• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) will hold a press conference Wednesday morning to discuss police reform legislation being crafted by Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.).

• Not all chokeholds are created equal, and President Donald Trump's recent executive order (like many other supposed bans) only stops police from using some of them.

• Black kids are 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in Washington, D.C., than their white counterparts. Less than 1 percent of all searches conducted under the city's stop-and-frisk policy removed deadly weapons from the streets.

• Five states (Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas) reported record increases in new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

• The English Premier League returns (sans fans) today after a 100-day shutdown.

Are toilets spreading COVID-19?

• A new paper argues that there should be at least 36 alien civilizations within the Milky Way galaxy. So where are they?

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described a now-retracted study as showing that hydroxychloroquine was effective in combatting COVID-19. The retracted study found that that hydroxychloroquine was harmful to users.