As infection and hospitalization numbers continue to rise, one question, doctors say, is becoming more common: If you test positive for COVID-19, what treatments are you eligible for?
While Washington state has a strong supply of COVID therapeutics, many primary care providers often aren’t aware of which ones exist, where they’re available or which patients are eligible, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center’s Dr. Elizabeth Duke, a researcher who studies viruses and vaccines, said this week.
To quicken the process, high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate COVID might benefit from advocating for treatments, she said.
Who’s eligible for COVID treatments?
If you test positive for COVID, Duke recommends first taking a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ever-expanding list of high-risk conditions for severe COVID.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the agency has broadened its definition of who’s most at risk of getting the sickest — now including a wide variety of conditions like cancer; chronic kidney, lung or liver diseases; dementia or other neurological conditions; diabetes; heart conditions and those who are obese or immunocompromised, in addition to various other conditions.
Older adults, current and former smokers, pregnant people and those who “do little or no physical activity” are also on the list, as well as those with “any type of disability that makes it more difficult to do certain activities or interact with the world around them,” including mental or behavioral health conditions or disorders.
If you don’t have one of the listed conditions, you don’t qualify for any therapeutics, Duke said (though double-checking with your doctor won’t hurt).
If you do have one of the listed conditions, you qualify for COVID treatments — but first you’ll need a doctor’s prescription.
How do I get a prescription?
If you have a primary care physician, contact them to figure out what antiviral might be the best fit, Duke said. Most health care systems now have a remote or telehealth option for prescribing COVID treatments — and many doctors are happy to accept a positive rapid test result in order to make a diagnosis, she added.
There are also options to get a prescription if you don’t have a primary care physician. In March, the federal government launched a program called Test to Treat, a kind of one-stop shop for COVID care where people can get tested for COVID, meet with a health care provider (in person or virtually), get a prescription and have it filled.
Hundreds of Test to Treat centers exist through the country, including dozens in Washington state and 11 in King County.
“That’s the ideal,” Duke said. “You go with your symptoms early on, get testing, find out results, and then they give you treatment. They know the criteria, they know what’s available and they have it right there.”
To find a site, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response website or call 1-800-232-0233. The call center is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
What to expect
In the United States, the FDA has issued EUAs for four antiviral medications and monoclonal antibodies for those who have mild-to-moderate COVID and who are at high risk of getting sicker — including Paxlovid, molnupiravir, remdesivir and a monoclonal antibody therapeutic called Bebtelovimab.
People are eligible for treatment only within five days of experiencing their first COVID symptoms, so act fast, Duke said.
“If you think you might be eligible for treatment because of a high-risk condition and you want to be treated, you need to take action and get tested early,” she said.