Coronavirus testing sites in New York City will begin issuing the antiviral COVID drug paxlovid to people who test positive for the virus as part of the city’s new “Test to Treat” initiative — the first of its kind in the United States.
Mayor Adams announced the plan Thursday alongside White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha and several top city health officials in the Inwood section of Manhattan.
“This new public health service will help all New Yorkers get access to life-saving treatments,” Adams said outside the Inwood Pharmacy, a partner in the program. “COVID may still be a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be the cause of death. That is what we’ll continue to say: it’s preventable, it’s treatable, and caught early, that treatment is really part of what’s keeping us moving forward.”
As part of the Test to Treat initiative, which also launched Thursday, mobile testing units managed by the city’s Test & Trace Corps are employing clinicians who can immediately issue prescriptions for antiviral medications like paxlovid — which comes free of charge as part of the program.
Those Test to Treat sites are partnering with local pharmacies — like the one Adams appeared at uptown — to ensure there’s a quick turnaround on prescriptions. Some of the prescriptions will be also be filled at the testing sites themselves.
The program, which the city expects to expand in the coming weeks, is starting with three mobile testing units paired with three pharmacies — the one in Inwood, Burke Avenue Pharmacy in the Bronx and Rex Pharmacy in South Ozone Park, Queens.
Dr. Ted Long, executive director of the city’s Test & Trace Corps, said within a week’s time the city will add seven more testing sites that offer paxlovid or prescriptions for the drug onsite. By the end of July, Long expects 30 sites will be up and running citywide and that together they’ll have the ability to conduct 6,000 tests and dispense 600 paxlovid prescriptions a day.
“COVID is like the weather system. A new variant can be a drizzle, or it can be a thunderstorm,” Long said. “Expanding treatment today will allow us to have a stronger roof over us whatever COVID has in store for us in the future.”
Paxlovid, which clinical tests have shown is 89% effective in reducing COVID’s symptoms, will come with eligibility requirements when it’s distributed or prescribed at city testing sites. Clinicians will screen patients for possible interactions with other drugs and will take into account whether patients are at an elevated risk when it comes to COVID.
Jha, who serves as one of President Biden’s top health officials, said the supply of the drug is no longer an issue, with city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan noting that the city is now “awash” in the medication.
Also tucked into the city’s announcement Thursday was the news that the Adams administration is also shelving its color-coded COVID alert system, at least temporarily, to reevaluate if it’s still an effective way to assess and rate risk.
The alert system became the subject of controversy in May when Adams wouldn’t reinstate an indoor mask mandate despite guidelines laid out by the system.
In reevaluating it, Vasan said the city would take into account “what we’ve learned over these recent weeks and where we are as a city, and as a society, in terms of our perception and the reality of risk.”
Jha noted that while COVID deaths are down about 90% nationwide since Biden took office in Jan. 2021, “COVID isn’t over” and that many of the Americans who’ve suffered most from its effects are minorities and the poor.
“We still have a virus out there that’s killing a lot of Americans. We should be doing everything we can to make sure every American who’s even remotely eligible gets it,” Jha said, referring to paxlovid. “And we should absolutely be making sure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by this virus have easy access to paxlovid.”
Jha didn’t limit his remarks to just one feared ailment on Thursday, though. He noted that the federal Department of Health & Human Services plans to distribute 56,000 doses of monkey pox vaccine in the coming days, with 8,000 of those set aside for New York.
“We are getting a lot more vaccines for monkey pox in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. “My expectation is we’re going to see many more thousands of vaccines coming next week and the week after that.”