(WIVB) — The Erie County Health Department is coming out with a new program to help COVID-19 patients. The county started its “Test to Treat” program this week.

“We really encourage people who test positive for COVID-19 at one of our testing sites to strongly consider this to prevent severe disease and to keep people out of the hospital,” Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said.

If people test positive at one of Erie County’s testing sites, they’re then offered the chance for a prescription of the anti-viral medication Paxlovid. It treats mild to moderate COVID symptoms in people 12 and up.

“The test to treat program is very important to protect our most vulnerable,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Thomas Russo. “Those groups include the unvaccinated, those that are eligible for their first booster shot, but have yet to receive it. Particularly if you’re 50 and older, pregnant, and have significant underlying disease and if you’re immunocompromised.”

Dr. Burstein said much like other places across the state, and the country, Erie County’s COVID-19 case numbers are increasing. According to Dr. Burstein, on Monday, around 350 people tested positive for COVID.

“That’s a significant increase to even where we were a week ago,” she said. “We know that in Erie County, in New York State and the rest of the United States, many of those infections are due to a new variant, BA.2.”

Dr. Russo said it’s because the sub-variant is more transmissible.

“Over the last several weeks, BA.2 has been slowly responsible for an increasing proportion of cases, and this is due to the fact that it’s 30 — and probably as much as 50 — percent more infectious,” Dr. Russo said.

Current ECDOH COVID-19 testing locations are set up at the ECDOH Health Clinics at 608 William St. in Buffalo, the Cheektowaga Senior Center, and the Erie County Emergency and Training Operations Center. Each location offers free testing: a PCR test, with results in about 1-3 business days, or a rapid test, with results in about 15 minutes. Appointments are suggested, but walk-ins are welcome; call (716) 858-2929 for more information.

  • 608 William St., Buffalo: weekdays, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. [This site will not be open on Friday, April 15 (Good Friday)]
  • Cheektowaga Senior Center, 3349 Broadway: Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Erie County Emergency and Training Operations Center, 3359 Broadway: Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. [This site will not be open on Friday, April 15 (Good Friday) and Saturday, April 16)]

Sarah Minkewicz is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.