OBJECTIVE: Patients with rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus have increased risk of infection and are treated with medications that may increase this risk yet are also hypothesized to help treat COVID-19. We set out to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of these patients in the United States.
METHODS: Participants in a US-wide longitudinal observational registry responded to a supplemental COVID-19 questionnaire by e-mail on March 25, 2020, about their symptoms, COVID-19 testing, health care changes, and related experiences during the prior 2 weeks. Analysis compared responses by diagnosis, disease activity, and new onset of symptoms. Qualitative analysis was conducted on optional free-text comment fields.
RESULTS: Of the 7061 participants invited to participate, 530 responded, with RA as the most frequent diagnosis (61%). Eleven participants met COVID-19 screening criteria, of whom two sought testing unsuccessfully. Six others sought testing, three of whom were successful, and all test results were negative. Not quite half of participants (42%) reported a change to their care in the prior 2 weeks. Qualitative analysis revealed four key themes: emotions in response to the pandemic, perceptions of risks from immunosuppressive medications, protective measures to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection, and disruptions in accessing rheumatic disease medications, including hydroxychloroquine.
CONCLUSION: After 2 weeks, many participants with rheumatic diseases already had important changes to their health care, with many altering medications without professional consultation or because of hydroxychloroquine shortage. As evidence accumulates on the effectiveness of potential COVID-19 treatments, effort is needed to safeguard access to established treatments for rheumatic diseases.