Nation’s first test-to-treat COVID-19 clinic to open in Providence

Updated 1:45 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish K. Jha said sick Rhode Island residents should not be shy about coming by to get speedy, on-site access to the COVID-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid, available at no cost through a new “test-to-treat” site set up in Providence with help from the federal government. 

“I would say to folks, don’t worry about overwhelming the site,” said Jha, speaking during a press conference on Thursday, about the opening of the Paxlovid clinic, the first of its kind in the U.S. “If we’re running into capacity issues, we will work on that, because at the end of the day we want to make sure this is highly accessible and widely available to all the people of rhode island. … We don’t want to be discouraging Rhode Islanders who can benefit from this life saving treatment.” 

Gov. Daniel J. McKee  held a press conference at the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. office to announce the new federally-supported “Test-to-Treat” program site now open at the Clínica Esparanza/Hope Clinic at 85 Eagle St. in Providence, which is meant to increase accessibility to Paxlovid for those having difficulty getting it otherwise. 

Clínica Esperanza/Hope Clinic is a free medical clinic serving the communities on the West Side, meeting the unmet healthcare needs of a predominantly immigrant, uninsured Spanish-speaking population. Clinica Esperanza Volunteer Medical Director Dr. Anne Searls De Groot said the the “Test-to-Treat” program “will save lives.” 

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The “Test-to-Treat” clinic at the organization’s 85 Eagle St. Neighborhood Health Station will be open six days a week, with all patients welcome to walk in without an appointment. The “Test-to-Treat” operations will run from 1 to 8 p.m on Mondays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. on Fridays. 

McKee was joined via a video conference call by Jha, who is on leave from his role as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health while serving as a senior counselor to President Joe Biden. 

“Let’s say you don’t have a primary care provider, or you’re having a hard time accessing yours, our thing is this should be open to everybody,” Jha said. 

McKee called it “innovative” and thanked the Biden administration for bringing it to Providence as a pilot program, offering same-day care for walk-up visits, regardless of the patient’s insurance status. The initiative is being fully funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Federal Public Assistance Program, McKee’s office said. 

“Rhode Island is so fortunate to be leading the nation in this effort,” McKee said. 

It was not immediately clear how long the pilot program will last or the total cost. 

Jha said McKee “jumped at the idea” of the test-to-treat program when it was offered to the states by the federal government. Jha said the program is establishing a site in Minnesota next within the coming days, followed by Massachusetts, New York and other states. 

Jha, who called Paxlovid “an extraordinarily safe drug” that’s “highly effective,” said the “Test-to-Treat” initiative helps make sure “vulnerable” communities get access to the antiviral treatment. 

“One of the things we know is the easiest ways to get Paxlovid is if you have a strong relationship with your primary care provider,” Jha said. “That helps. But unfortunately, we know that not all of our citizens have that kind of access … We have to do extra work to make sure those from our community who are often more vulnerable are taken care of.” 

Patients may be eligible for treatment with the oral antiviral if they test positive for COVID-19, are at least age 12, have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 due to being 50 or older or having medical conditions, and also started having mild to moderate symptoms in the last five days. 

“What I’ve been encouraging providers is that we should really be quite permissive about this,” Jha said. “As long as they fit into the criteria, which are pretty broad, people should be getting Paxlovid. But obviously that’s a clinical call by a clinical provider. 

Paxlovid was first authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December last year. Now, Jha said about 25,000 to 30,000 courses of Paxlovid are now being prescribed each day. 

Jha said Rhode Island is one of the top states for Paxlovid use rates, and he credits that in combination with high vaccination rates with low incidents of serious illness and death as a result of COVID-19. 

“It’s one of the reasons why serious illness and death in Rhode Island is as low as it is,” Jha said. “This is a huge success story. However, we should never be satisfied. We should keep going and provide greater access.” 

Recent reports about the drug causing a “rebound” case of COVID-19 among users do not have Jha concerned, calling it an “infrequent event” and that Paxlovid was effective at stopping severe illness and death. 

“People who have that rebound don’t end up particularly sick or in hospital dying,” Jha said. “The purpose of this drug is to keep you out of the hospital and keep you from getting severely ill and dying. In that way, the drug is working extraordinarily well.” 

During the press conference, McKee also answered questions about the state budget, stating that he plans to provide Rhode Islanders with “several hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief,” given that there is budget surplus forecast at nearly $1 billion. McKee didn’t state exactly how he would provide that tax relief, but said supports a reduction of the sales tax for the short-term and long-term. 

“We like surpluses,” said McKee, a former mayor. “I managed budgets in Cumberland, and we used surpluses to help people in Cumberland at the time. We’re going to use surpluses to help people in the state of Rhode Island as well.” 

McKee said he’s going to be working together with R.I. Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and R.I. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi in the coming days. 

“I have another meeting with them tomorrow morning and these issues are front and center,” said McKee, adding that it’s up to the General Assembly to determine “exactly” what the state will do as far as tax relief. “I’m on record talking about the sales tax. That’s something I support long-term, as well as short-term. 

(Update: Story updated through out with more information about clinic, coverage of morning news conference)

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.