With COVID-19 medicines now more readily available and many people eligible for treatment, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) is urging people to be prepared by knowing if they are at high risk for severe illness from the virus and how to get timely access to medical care should they test positive.
Most San Franciscans who are eligible for COVID-19 medicines and test positive should access treatment by going to their health care providers. SFDPH is also helping link people at high risk to health care providers, including those who are uninsured or otherwise disconnected from medical care, regardless of immigration status.
COVID-19 medicines, including oral medicines like Paxlovid, and injectable or intravenous infusion treatments are free to the patient and are proven to reduce the risk of severe illness. Time is of the essence, as some of the medicines, namely those taken by mouth, must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.
Currently, under federal and state guidance, a person is eligible for treatment if they test positive for COVID-19 and meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Immunocompromised, as they may not have mounted a full response to vaccines
- Over age 65
- Under age 65 and at high risk for a serious illness if they contract COVID-19 because of other medical conditions (see below)
- Unvaccinated, or not up to date on vaccinations (initial two doses and booster, if eligible)
COVID-19 medications should not be considered a replacement for vaccinations and boosters, which remain the best defense against the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
“COVID-19 medicines can save lives and are important tools we can use to protect people who are medically vulnerable, but we must be prepared to get them to people quickly,” said Health Officer, Dr. Susan Philip. "We are helping to ensure people have access to these medicines through their medical systems. People should review the eligibility criteria now to see if they are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, keep rapid test kits on hand, and have a plan for reaching a doctor quickly if they test positive. This is one of the ways we can be prepared for COVID, as this virus will be with us for some time to come.”
COVID-19 medicines currently include oral antiviral medicines, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, and the monoclonal antibody medicine Bebtelovimab. The preventative medicine, Evusheld is reserved for patients with the highest risk, such as those who may have an organ transplant and who are taking medications to suppress the immune system. Given potential side effects or interactions with other medicines, people who are eligible for a prescription or referral need to consult a doctor first. For example, Molnupiravir cannot be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding, or when there is a possibility of pregnancy for both women and men.
How to get medicines
Most San Franciscans who are eligible and test positive should contact their health system or provider. Major health systems in SF are required by local health order to test patients within a day of reporting symptoms and could offer immediate referrals to a doctor for anyone who is eligible for COVID-19 medicine and tests positive.
SFDPH is also providing access to those without coverage through the San Francisco Health Network (SFHN). Some insurance plans, including all SF Medi-Cal plans, have all-hours telehealth access to doctors by phone or video. Additionally, “Test to Treat” programs are part of a federal initiative that enable patients to test, consult a health care provider, and fill a prescription at the same visit. Several Federally Qualified Health Centers within SF offer this service to their patients, and some SF pharmacies do as well.
Local supplies available
While oral medications are becoming more widely available, getting them to patients in time for treatment remains a challenge. Health systems and providers are adjusting their operations to deliver COVID-19 medicines to patients more quickly. Meanwhile, recent expansions in eligibility and greater awareness and preparedness among the public will help SFDPH’s efforts to make sure that the weekly allocations of medicines SF receives from the State are well used, and anyone who needs medicine can get it.
In addition, other facilities like select pharmacies are receiving allocations through the federal distribution pathways with more locations are expected to open-up over time. SFDPH will continue to work with providers to allocate medicines efficiently and equitably with a focus on reaching those most vulnerable and in need.
More information about therapeutics and access within SF can be found here: sf.gov/get-treated-covid-19
A list of federal “Test to Treat” sites in SF can be found here: https://covid-19-test-to-treat-locator-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com/
SFDPH’s Covid Resource Center (CRC) can help patients navigate to care options if having trouble contacting a provider. Call the CRC at: 628-652-2700.
For a list of medical conditions that put people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html