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Pima County extending COVID 'test-to-treat' Paxlovid program another month
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Pima County extending COVID 'test-to-treat' Paxlovid program another month

Pima County will continue to offer COVID-positive people age 12 and older free supplies of Paxlovid, a pill that stems the virus if taken within five days of symptoms beginning. The opportunity to take the oral antiviral after testing positive for COVID-19 will now last until September 21, county officials said.

The county's “test-to-treat” program started in late June in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was set to send a month later but was extended to August 24 “based on the (public) response,” the Tucson Sentinel reported in July.

As of Wednesday, almost 1,400 people in Pima County have been given Paxlovid pills through the program after they tested positive for a coronavirus infection.

To be eligible for the free Paxlovid treatment, a person must first test positive for COVID-19 either at home or through a testing site. No cost and no proof of insurance is required.

Eligibility also requires patients:

  • Be age 12 or older
  • Weigh at least 88 pounds
  • Have mild to moderate symptoms
  • Have a high risk of severe COVID-19 illness

People in the program will be asked to provide some general information, such as contact information and when they tested positive for COVID-19.

Anyone who has tested positive already can call 520-724-7895 to see if they can still sign up for the program and get the medication. County officials announced Thursday that the program would be extended for another month.

They can also walk into the County Health Department’s East Clinic, 6920 E. Broadway, Suite B, to join the program and to get tested, if needed.

The phone line and the East Clinic will operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. However, both the clinic and phone line will be closed this Saturday and over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2 through Sept. 4.

Some people can get the pills immediately if they meet certain eligibility requirements.

Other private health care providers and pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, offer their own test-to-treat programs, with an interactive map showing locations nationwide that offer them.

The county and other health care providers are still offering free initial series and booster shots of anti-COVID vaccines, and many testing centers remain available.

The COVID-19 testing site at the Tucson International Airport closed Friday with no plans to reopen.

Paxlovid and other pills

Paxlovid is manufactured by Pfizer, the maker of the first COVID vaccine available in the U.S. and for children 6 and up.  It’s only meant to clear mild-moderate COVID-19 illnesses.

When given the medication, people are usually prescribed to take three pills twice a day for five days. A standard single dose of Paxlovid in fact consists of three pills from two different types of medications: two 150 mg pills of nirmatrelvir and a 100 mg pills of ritonavir.

Paxlovid doses should be taken as early as possible after finding any symptoms and needs to be taken within five days of symptom onset, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A special dose of Paxlovid is also available for people with kidney failure. The “renal” dose is just two pills, leaving out one pill of the 150 mg nirmatrelvir. People with severe kidney failure should not take Paxlovid, HHS warns.

The treatment is available in “ample supply” nationwide, according to the HHS.

The Food and Drug Administration also gave an emergency-use authorization to the pill Lagevrio, made by the company Merck, for mild and moderate COVID illness. The pill is based on the medication molnupiravir, unlike Paxlovid, but it's only for people 18 and older. It's not as widely offered as Paxlovid and requires taking four pills every 12 hours for five days.

The FDA warns that neither COVID medication, Paxlovid or Lagevrio, is a subsistitute for COVID vaccines and boosters.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

Eligibility for Paxlovid treatment through Pima County

To receive free Paxlovid treatment from the county, a patient must meet these requirements:

  • Already tested positive for COVID 
  • Fewer than five days have passed since onset of COVID symptoms
  • 12 or older
  • Weigh at least 88 pounds
  • Have mild to moderate symptoms
  • Have a high risk of severe COVID-19 illness

To sign up for Pima County test-to-treat program:

  • Call 520-724-7895
  • Walk into the County Health Department’s East Clinic, 6920 E. Broadway Blvd., Suite B
    • from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon
    • closed Saturday, Aug. 20, and over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2 through Sept. 4.

Other test-to-trest programs are shown on an interactive map.

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