DENVER (KDVR) — During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden announced a new “test and treat” initiative for COVID-19 patients.

Under the program, patients could go to a pharmacy to get tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they could get antiviral pills or other treatments on the spot at no charge. Until now, the antiviral pills have been hard to come by, but Biden said Pfizer is ramping up manufacturing.

“I was concerned that maybe we weren’t going to have enough supply, but that has changed a lot now,” said Dr. David Beuther, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.

He hopes the antiviral pills will become more available. In studies, the pills have been shown to prevent about 90% of hospitalizations in high-risk groups. 

This plan could help speed up the process of getting treatment, but it will require a shift in testing trends.

“Testing is still really important. The big shift during the omicron wave is a lot of people are doing this on their own kind of away from their doctors. So, it’s going to be more important than ever that patients, that the public is aware of what their options are,” Beuther said. 

Raising awareness will be key. Experts say it’s very important to get the antiviral within the first five days of the onset of symptoms, and this program could help make that happen.

The plan is promising to many doctors, but there are concerns.

“There will be a lot of logistical challenges,” said Dr. Jaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood.

Kumar worries that some pharmacies may not be equipped for this right now.

“You need to have testing supplies on hand, staffing to do the testing and then a provider on site to prescribe that medication,” Kumar said. “I’m hoping we can get there, but it will need a lot of preparation and strategizing on how those testing and treating sites will be created.”

FOX31 received a statement from Walgreens regarding the “test and treat” concept:

As we have throughout the pandemic, Walgreens remains committed to providing our patients access to the COVID-19 services and medications they need, administering more than 60 million vaccines and 26 million tests, and more recently, dispensing COVID-19 oral antivirals to eligible individuals. As we move to the next phase of the pandemic, we look forward to continuing to work closely with the administration and federal agencies on the latest guidance allowing our provider partners to assess patients and order oral COVID-19 therapies. Our pharmacists and pharmacies have played an essential role in response to COVID-19, and stand ready to further support in the timely and accessible delivery of COVID-19 treatments to patients. We will provide additional details regarding rollout in our stores as it becomes available.

CVS Pharmacy is also on board with the initiative:

Since the initial Emergency Use Authorization of oral antiviral therapies, we’ve provided end-to-end access and care for patients to support rapid and appropriate dispensing to treat COVID-19 in eligible populations. With our MinuteClinic medical clinics and CVS Pharmacy footprint we are uniquely positioned to help support the government’s Test to Treat initiative and look forward to helping provide expanded access as additional inventory becomes available.