The advent of drugs to help treat COVID-19 has been one of the keys officials have cited to getting the United States back to normal amid the ongoing pandemic, but getting them in the hands of Americans remained difficult even with the White House’s promise of more access to drugs.
Earlier this month, the White House announced a new program that would help get these antiviral treatments to the people who needed them most.
“President Joe Biden has launched a test and treat initiative,” White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said earlier this month. “This will allow people to go to their local pharmacy, get tested, and if they test positive for COVID, they will have immediate access to life-saving pills.”
When Monica Eng tested positive for the virus on Friday, her mother reminded her of the “test to treat” program, so she began calling area pharmacies.
“I called about 10 of the places that were supposed to have it in Chicago, and none of them told me the program was up,” said Eng, a reporter with Axios Chicago.
Eng writes a newsletter for the publication and documents his struggles in the latest edition.
“I called Walgreens corporate office and the CVS spokesperson, and they couldn’t quite answer why I was having such a difficult problem,” she said.
NBC 5 then called six different Chicago pharmacies, and only one offered COVID tests, prescriptions and pills under one roof. Others who had the medicine for COVID would not allow journalist Alex Maragos to book an appointment for a test at the same pharmacy.
The Chicago Department of Public Health changed its website Wednesday, removing a search tool it said was provided by pharmacies.
“When people are sick, they need something practical,” Eng said. “They need a convenient way to test and be treated and it wasn’t easy.”
Eng never received the medication she was looking for, but says she feels better.
Experts recommend that if residents become ill with COVID, particularly if they are at high risk for complications, call their local pharmacy ahead of time to see if they offer “test to treat” options, with more of locations expected to come online in the coming weeks.