Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday announced the launch of a...

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday announced the launch of a free hotline for people diagnosed with COVID-19 but without a health care provider. Credit: Flickr/Governor Kathy Hochul

New York State health officials on Monday launched a free hotline for people diagnosed with COVID-19 but without a health care provider. 

The hotline, 888-TREAT-NY, will connect callers to a health care provider who will provide a clinical assessment and a treatment plan.

Treatment may include a prescription for an antiviral medicine. The antivirals prescribed through the program, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, have been proved to decrease hospitalizations for people at risk for severe disease, according to a release from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. When taken soon after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the antivirals help fight infection and shorten recovery time. 

People testing positive can also visit the NYS COVID-19 ExpressCare Therapeutics Access website. New York City residents should call 212-COVID-19. 

"We've made real progress in our fight against COVID-19, but as new variants continue to spread it's important to continue to adapt and expand our efforts to protect New Yorkers," Hochul said. "Our new COVID-19 treatment hotline will provide New Yorkers with better access to early treatments that help prevent severe illness."

The news of the hotline came as the state continues to face the surging BA. 5 omicron variant. Long Island's seven-day positivity average reached 10.82% in test results from Sunday, a number that's considered a significant undercount by health experts due to unreported at-home tests.

There is no exact count of the number of New Yorkers without a health care provider, but state health officials estimate 900,000 don't have medical insurance. 

New York City already operates a similar hotline that gets several hundred treatment visits a day. A state Department of Health spokesman said officials anticipate similar numbers. The state program uses the city’s online care platform. 

Experts said the hotline could be a strong addition to the public health arsenal, with caveats.

“We are very happy about this work,” said Dr. Amanda Ascher, chief medical officer of Sun River Health, a community health provider serving 245,000 mostly uninsured or underinsured people on Long Island and across the state. “But I don’t think this work replaces whole-person primary care … I hope the next step would be New York State then tells folks where they can connect to a primary care clinician for ongoing treatment.” 

Elements of the state program like telemedicine and antiviral medications are proved to work, said Martine Hackett, associate professor in the master of public health and community health programs at Hofstra University, “but it’s not useful if nobody uses it.”

Part of the challenge may lie in gaining the trust of groups like New York residents living in the United States illegally, or those whose livelihoods depend on making it in to work, she said. 

The state program is free to those without health care coverage. Insured patients will pay a copay amount based on their plan.

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