New York City is creating the first mobile testing units in the United States that will allow people who test positive for the coronavirus to immediately receive for free the antiviral treatment Paxlovid.
Mayor Eric Adams announced the new program on Thursday in Manhattan with Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator.
The new “Test to Treat” mobile unit program is part of federal and city efforts to reduce the impact of the virus and to prepare for future waves of cases. Health officials want to improve access to antiviral drugs for vulnerable New Yorkers who may not know about the treatment or do not have a primary care doctor or health insurance.
“By getting lifesaving medications into the hands of New Yorkers minutes after they test positive, we are once again leading the nation to quickly deliver accessible care to those who need it,” Mr. Adams said in a statement.
President Biden announced a national “Test to Treat” effort in his State of the Union address in March. The federal program relies on hundreds of local pharmacy-based clinics and community health centers to prescribe antiviral treatments on the spot. No other city besides New York has yet used mobile testing units for the program.
Starting on Thursday, three of the city’s mobile testing units will include a clinician who can prescribe antiviral medications for those who are eligible. The units will be set up outside local pharmacies that can immediately fill those prescriptions. The sites will be in the Inwood section of Manhattan, South Ozone Park in Queens, and in the East Bronx — all neighborhoods away from downtown or midtown Manhattan that have many working class residents.
The number of mobile sites that can offer the prescription will expand to more than 30 by the end of July, city officials said, adding that later this summer the city will begin offering antiviral medications directly at the 30 mobile units, rather than through a nearby pharmacy. The city already offers free home delivery of antiviral treatments.
Dr. Ted Long, executive director of the city’s Test & Trace Corps, said that the first patient at the new mobile testing site outside Inwood Pharmacy this week was a woman who did not have a cellphone and was recently exposed to the virus. She tested positive and left the pharmacy with Paxlovid.
“This effort is focused on equity,” he said.
Dr. Jha said in an interview that there had been a major increase in the use of Paxlovid across the country over the last three months, and that 240,000 new prescriptions for the treatment were reported last week, the highest weekly total so far. But he said that people who test positive in poorer communities had not taken advantage of antiviral treatments as often as people in wealthier communities had.
“I love this idea,” he said of New York’s mobile program. “You can go to people where they are. I expect this to go very well, and it will be a great model for the rest of the country to follow.”