Minnesota will be among the first states in the country to host federally supported sites where COVID-19 patients can access both tests and treatment.
The White House announced Thursday that it will send clinical personnel to Minnesota to staff existing state-run testing locations, transforming them into "test-to-treat" sites where eligible patients can get a prescription for the antiviral drug Paxlovid. Rhode Island, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts will get similar federal resources.
In Minnesota, teams of doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants will be able to write prescriptions for patients who test positive for COVID at test-to-treat sites, said Erin McLachlan, health care preparedness program manager with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The clinicians are expected to arrive in mid-June, she said.
"We've always had a good partnership with the feds, and when we heard that this would be an asset that would be eligible to us, we applied for it," McLachlan said. "We're looking forward to having them come."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2021 gave emergency use authorization for Paxlovid, a Pfizer drug that has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID. It's now available at more than 2,500 test-to-treat locations nationwide, according to the White House, and prescriptions have jumped from about 27,000 a week to more than 182,000.
Not everyone who tests positive for COVID will be able to get a Paxlovid prescription, however. Eligibility is determined based on risk of severe illness, McLachlan said.
"If you're younger and you're vaccinated, you probably won't get that sick with COVID," she said. "We're trying to keep the oral antivirals for those that would need them the most, or would get most sick from COVID."
Minnesota already has 61 test-to-treat sites, and patients can get a Paxlovid or bebtelovimab prescription from their regular doctor, McLachlan said.
Daily COVID cases in Minnesota appear to have begun to decline, marking a break in the latest wave of infections. The most recent MDH data available show a seven-day rolling average of 34 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, down from about 38 the week before and a high of nearly 250 in January.
The 2,170 cases the state reported Thursday reflect the results of PCR tests, but do not include tests people took at home. The state also reported nine new COVID-19 deaths, including a teen from Hennepin County. The others who died were all age 60 or older.
Both in Minnesota and nationally, deaths have begun to plateau — a trend that White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told the Associated Press he credits to vaccines and a sharp rise in Paxlovid prescriptions.
"We are now at a point where I believe fundamentally most COVID deaths are preventable, that the deaths that are happening out there are mostly unnecessary, and there are a lot of tools we have now to make sure people do not die of this disease," Jha said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.