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Coronavirus Update: How well is the COVID-19 test-to-treat program working?

The Biden administration’s test-to-treat program, which allows people who test positive for COVID-19 to leave the pharmacy with a prescription for antivirals, is facing questions about capacity.

Kaiser Health News reported Friday that some parts of the country have no designated test-to-treat clinics; the website for CVS Health Corp.
one of the program’s partners, has technical difficulties; and there may be unexpected costs, like having to pay $100 for an in-person or telehealth visit to discuss the antivirals.

MarketWatch has reached out to CVS for comment. 

In addition, the antiviral pills —Merck & Co. Inc.’s

Lagevrio and Pfizer Inc.’s

Paxlovid—are in short supply in some places, as are appointments. 

The test-to-treat program is one of the administration’s key tools to managing the pandemic, along with providing free COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, N95 masks, and at-home tests. Andy Slavitt, a former White House adviser, described the test-to-treat program as a “policy home run” on Twitter on Thursday. 

CVS, the Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.
and Walmart Inc.

are some of the pharmacy chains participating in the program.

Health experts have also raised broader concerns about how challenging it can be to get access to prescriptions for the antivirals.

“Paxlovid is an effective treatment for people at risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Larry Levitt, an EVP for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted Friday. “But getting it to people who need it is revealing the cracks between our health care and public health systems.”

(Levitt’s tweet was in response to Farzad Mostashari sharing how difficult it was for him, a former health official in the Obama administration, to get a Paxlovid prescription for his 86-year-old father from a primary care doctor.)

Other COVID-19 news to know:

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized the first COVID-19 test that uses breath samples. The InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer can produce results within three minutes. It’s made by InspectIR Systems LLC, a privately held company. The test has to be administered by a health care professional.  The company is expected to produce 100 breath instruments per week that can each be used for 160 samples per day, the regulator said.

South Korea plans to lift nearly all virus mitigation measures except for a mask mandate next week, according to the New York Times, following the country’s BA.2 wave. Bars and restaurants will be able to stay open 24 hours a day and more than 10 people can gather at private events. It also plans to end its seven-day isolation rule for people who have tested positive for the virus, though isolation will still be recommended. 

Here’s what the numbers say: 

The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. rose to 36,830 on Thursday, the most since March 9, according to The New York Times tracker. The average is up from 33,691 on Wednesday and is up 32% from two weeks ago. 

Meanwhile, the daily average for hospitalizations continues to decline. It was at 14,827 on Thursday, down 11% from two weeks ago and the lowest count since March 31, 2020. The daily average for deaths was 500, the lowest since Aug. 5, 2021, down 28% from two weeks ago. 

— Tomi Kilgore

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