MERIDEN — High-risk patients who test positive for COVID-19 should notify their doctor or clinician immediately to begin treatment options that could prevent serious illness, health care advocates say.
But the increase in COVID-19 positivity, widespread mask removal and the proliferation of at home rapid tests may work against the most vulnerable getting access to early care.
An average of 880 cases per day were reported in Connecticut in the last week. Cases have increased by 70 percent from the average two weeks ago. Deaths have decreased by 5 percent, a total of 10,834 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
January 2022 was the month with the highest average cases, while April 2020 was the month with the highest average deaths in Connecticut.
“They take the masks off and it’s going through the roof,” said pharmacist Greg Hancock about the state’s positivity rate. Hancock owns Hancock’s Pharmacy in Meriden, where the spike in COVID-19 positivity has led to an increase in demand for the second booster shot.
But Hancock hasn’t seen as much demand for antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid to prevent severe COVID, despite an increase in supply. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized Paxlovid for people age 12 and up who weigh at least 88 pounds. But in order to qualify for a prescription, a patient must also have had a positive COVID-19 test result and be at high risk.
That means patients must either have certain underlying conditions — including cancer, diabetes, obesity, or others — or be an older adult (more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65). The more underlying medical conditions a person has, the higher their risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA granted the Emergency Use Authorization in December, just as a staggering number of people were infected with the Omicron variant and the need for care skyrocketed, leading to supply issues.
However, the supply has improved so that patients who meet the criteria for Paxlovid can now easily receive it, according to the Yale School of Medicine. Manufacturer Pfizer’s data show that participants who were given Paxlovid were 89% less likely to develop severe illness and death compared to trial participants who received a placebo.
Community Health Center Inc., which has a branch in Meriden, has been providing anti-viral treatment to socially disadvantaged patients for several months.
“We are a test to treat site, and are providing the anti-viral treatment Paxlovid to patients testing positive for COVID,” said CHC spokeswoman Leslie Gianelli in an email. “We were among the first to receive the treatment so eligible patients have had ready access since it became available. Treatment must begin within five days of the onset of symptoms. Any patient testing positive is assessed and informed about the treatment if eligible.”
But a lack of awareness about the available treatment could be preventing medical intervention for the neediest patients. This is particularly acute for those who administer at-home rapid tests and don’t report a positive result to a physician, or those who got a false negative.
“Everything is so new it’s become confusing,” Hancock said. “The problem with the home testing is, it’s not always accurate. That’s where it’s at right now.”
Hancock predicts that if the number of confirmed cases ticks up, the demand for second boosters will continue to climb.