Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Oct. 5, 2022

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Washington expands telehealth options to improve access to COVID-19 treatment

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LONGVIEW — Washington residents who test positive for COVID-19 can now get a free telehealth appointment for treatment consultation, regardless of their insurance coverage.

Late last week, the state Department of Health launched the new telehealth option as an expansion of the federal government’s initiative to increase access to COVID treatments.

Antiviral pills authorized to treat COVID-19 — Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir — are available by prescription only and should be started within five days of when symptoms begin, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Telehealth appointments via phone or video call to discuss COVID-19 treatments had previously been only available to insured patients who receive care through a provider that offers them, according to the health department. The new program makes these visits available to everyone, regardless of insurance status, with no out-of-pocket costs.

“At DOH, we value equity and innovation, and have embraced those values throughout our COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health, in a press release. “Ensuring that we can equitably connect communities with therapeutics is pivotal so that we can continue our mission of reducing unnecessary death from this disease.”

Statewide, COVID-19 cases have remained relatively flat over the last couple months, with 213 new cases per 100,00 people from July 17 to July 23. Hospitalizations have increased over the same time period and may be plateauing at a seven-day rate of about 10 per 100,000. The death rate has increased, with 80 COVID-19 deaths recorded from June 23 to June 29, the most recent complete data.

In Cowlitz County, COVID-19 cases appear to be slowly decreasing or flattening, with about 141 per 100,000 from July 17 to July 23. In the county and statewide, the number of cases reported is an undercount because not everyone gets tested or reports at-home test results, according to the health department.

Hospitalizations rise and fall from week to week, but overall admissions per month have slowly increased, according to Cowlitz County Health and Human Services. The most recent weekly hospitalization rate is above the state average, at 12.7 per 100,000.

Last month, the county recorded an increase in COVID-19 deaths, with 13 so far in July, up from two in June, according to the county health department.

County health staff plan to get the word out locally about the new free option through the department’s website, social media pages and other outreach efforts, said Stefanie Donahue, communications manager.

“We’re pleased to see new options for people to access COVID-19 treatments and are hopeful the state’s announcement last week helped broaden awareness,” she said. “We want people to know COVID-19 treatments are potentially life-saving, particularly for those who are at higher risk of severe disease.”

Not everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 needs treatment. Oral antivirals are important for people who are at high risk of hospitalization, including those 65 and older, pregnant, obese, have chronic medical conditions or who are taking immunosuppressant treatments, according to the Department of Health.

People can set up a telehealth appointment through the state’s new program at the Department of Health’s telehealth webpage at https://bit.ly/3cYUIEb or by calling the COVID-19 call center 1-800-525-0127 and press #. The call center can set up appointments from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and state holidays. Telehealth appointments are available in 240 languages through translation services and can be arranged through the call center.

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