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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Emergency rooms to start dispensing oral treatments for COVID-19

Hospitals will be able to dispense oral treatments against COVID-19 as a Health Department strategy to mitigate the significant increase in hospitalizations for the coronavirus.

By The Star Staff

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López on Monday provided details of agreements reached with the Puerto Rico Hospitals Association to address the rise in hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 infections including those involving the omicron variant.

Hospitals will be able to dispense oral treatments against COVID-19 as a strategy of the Department of Health to mitigate the significant increase in hospitalizations for the coronavirus, Mellado López said.

In an agreement with the Hospitals Association, the government will allocate the home-intake treatments in emergency rooms, where health personnel can prescribe them for those patients who are in the first days of symptoms and qualify.

The extension to be able to dispense drugs -- which currently only pharmacies have -- will begin in 16 hospital facilities, which are, among others: San Pablo de Caguas and Bayamón; Caribbean Medical in Fajardo, Menonita de Caguas, Aibonito, Cayey and Guayama; Manatí Doctor Center; Auxilio Mutuo in San Juan; and Damas Hospital in Ponce.

“Emergency rooms are for people with symptoms. What we are doing is putting these drugs into tablets in hospitals and facilitating tests so that they can identify those patients and give them treatment so that they can go home and avoid hospitalizations,” Mellado López said at a press conference.

The health secretary said he hopes that, at the end of this week, hospitals will begin receiving the treatments, which can be administered at home.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health also made the use of COVID-19 home test results more flexible to obtain antiviral drugs without the need for a “confirmatory test.”

Oral medications endorsed by federal agencies so far are Molnupiravir, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merck and used for patients 18 years of age and older; and Paxlovid, from Pfizer, for people 12 years and older.

In order to qualify, patients must have a positive test, be in the first five days of mild to moderate symptoms, and meet a list of clinical criteria.

“It has been seen that both the antiviral and the monoclonal drug prevent hospitalizations,” Mellado López said.

Puerto Rico woke up Monday with a new record number of patients hospitalized for the coronavirus: 750. It is the highest number since the pandemic began in March 2020. Currently, the island’s hospitals are 55% occupied.

“The hospitals have told me that they are not in a situation of collapse,” Mellado López reiterated.

However, the health chief acknowledged that experts estimate that the number of hospitalizations will continue to increase -- they predict that the figure could reach 1,000 -- but stressed that the average stays of those patients has decreased compared to hospitalizations necessitated by the delta variant.

Puerto Rico had registered 98,200 positive cases for COVID-19 in the 10 days leading up to Monday, the Health Department’s chief epidemiology officer, Melissa Marzán, said.

The data entered in the BioPortal of the health agency covers from Dec. 29 through Sunday, the official specified in a press conference.

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