Pima County’s COVID-19 test-to-treat program extended into August
Pima County’s test-to-treat program for COVID-19 patients has been extended through August 24, after the federally supported Paxlovid program was set to end this week.
The program allows residents to receive free antiviral medication, if eligible, without proof of insurance. The county has already provided 773 people with the drug Paxlovid, as of this week.
The extension of the anti-coronavirus effort, which had been set to run for a month beginning in late June, is “based on the response from the public,” a press release from county officials said Friday. The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Fairly early on, the (Pima County) Health Department saw that the uptake was strong, there was a pretty steady community need for it, interest in it,” spokesman Anthony Gimino told the Tucson Sentinel. “So then we approached the state, the state kind of coordinates with FEMA, and we got approval for the extension.”
The oral antiviral is effective against COVID if administered within five days of symptoms, the release said. Individuals may be eligible for the medication if they test positive and are at least 12 years old, weigh at least 88 pounds, have mild symptoms and have an elevated risk for serious illness.
“We still see a need in our community, and we’re happy to continue to make this free resource available,” Dr. Theresa Cullen, PCHD director, said in the release. “This treatment is one of the important tools we have to mitigate the potential serious impacts of COVID-19.”
President Joe Biden is on the antiviral medicine after testing positive for COVID on Thursday, and his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci took the drug after being diagnosed with the virus earlier this summer. Fauci said he experienced rebound COVID symptoms after taking the medication last month.
Gimino said the considerations the county took with Paxlovid and the documented rebound cases are “beyond my scope.”
“I know our team is aware of them, and you see plenty of stories on the Paxlovid rebound. Does the benefit far outweigh that? Yeah,” he told the Sentinel. “But it is a thing. And there may be some education going on there too when people start on it.”
The program is offered at the Health Department’s East Clinic, but the program will no longer be available at the clinic on Saturdays. The location will run the initiative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, next Monday the site will open at 1 p.m., to provide time to "onboard" a newly arrived three-person FEMA team, Gimino said.
The program is also available at other locations in Tucson.
If someone tests positive at home or another testing location, they can call 520-724-7895 or visit the East Clinic at 6920 E. Broadway to see if they’re eligible for the Paxlovid.
The easiest way is to call the number after a positive test result, Gimino said and after answering a few questions, people who need Paxlovid may have the antiviral headed to their local pharmacy.
“Not everybody has their own health care provider or local doctor,” he said to the Sentinel. “So this is also very much in line with the Health Department’s goals of equity and access for everybody.”
Another extension of the program “may be,” possible if the need continues, according to Cullen. Further treatment information is available on Pima County's website, along with COVID testing locations.