At a Bay Area ‘Test-to-Treat’ Site, Few Takers for Free Antivirals

by | Jun 16, 2022 | Health

BERKELEY, Calif. — After avoiding movie theaters, restaurants, and gyms for more than two years, Helen Ho decided to take her first big risk since the start of the pandemic to attend her graduation.

In late May, Ho, 32, flew to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to collect her Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard University. A few days after returning home to the Bay Area, she tested positive for covid-19. At first, the Ivy League-educated researcher found herself at a loss for what to do.

“The protocols on how to respond after you test positive are extremely confusing,” Ho said.

But a few days later, after talking to an advice nurse, she found herself in the scrubby courtyard of a defunct senior center in West Berkeley that had been transformed into one of the state’s new “test-to-treat” sites.

The senior center is one of 138 free covid testing locations California has expanded into one-stop treatment sites to improve the accessibility of antiviral medication. The state’s initiative is modeled after the Biden administration’s “test-to-treat” program, announced in March, which aims to provide high-risk patients who test positive with instant access to antiviral medications. To do so, California is contracting with OptumServe, a Minnesota-based managed-care company, to spend $18.2 million a year on the effort.

One month into the initiative at sites from Eureka to San Diego, state health workers are slow to get Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir into the hands of patients, who must take them in the first few days …

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