PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee had a special guest at his COVID-19 briefing Thursday morning.

White House COVID-19 Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha joined McKee virtually to announce the nation’s first federally backed test-to-treat site is opening at the Clínica Esperanza/Hope Clinic in Providence.

The new site comes as the White House announced more steps Thursday to make the antiviral treatment Paxlovid more accessible across the United States. The site will provide patients with immediate access to the drug once they test positive.

“I think it is an innovative idea that Dr. Jha and his team have looked at and Rhode Island is so fortunate to be leading the nation in this effort with vaccines and boosters also being available at these sites,” McKee said.

Anyone who tests positive at the clinic will immediately receive an assessment from a medical provider to see if they are eligible for oral antiviral treatment. If they are, they will receive the treatment onsite immediately.

Someone may be eligible for treatment with oral antivirals if they test positive for the virus, are 12 years or older, are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 due to age or medical conditions, and started having mild to moderate symptoms in the last five days.

In addition to testing and treatment, the clinic will also offer vaccines and boosters at the “one-stop-shop.”

“These sites are critical to ensuring easy access to lifesaving treatments that are helping to prevent serious illness and saving lives,” Dr. Jha said. “COVID isn’t over, but we now have more tools than ever to protect ourselves—and that’s real progress. I thank Governor McKee for his partnership and extraordinary leadership in this fight.”

When asked about a recent health advisory from the Centers for Control Disease and Prevention about the potential for recurrence of COVID-19 or “COVID-19 rebound” in those who have taken Paxloid, Jha says clinical trial data supports it’s “infrequent.”

According to the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH), these services are free of charge and will be provided to all individuals regardless of insurance status.

“This test-to-treat site is an important step to help ensure that all Rhode Islanders have equal access to treatment for COVID-19, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay,” RIDOH Interim Director Dr. James McDonald said in a press release.

More federally supported sites are set to open in the coming weeks in Massachusetts and New York City.

According to the Associated Press, Jha said about 25,000 to 30,000 courses of Paxlovid are being prescribed each day. When administered within five days of symptoms appearing, the drug has been proven to bring about a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease.

The initiative will be funded fully through the Biden Administration’s FEMA Federal Public Assistance Program.

On Thursday, the R.I. Department of Health reported 455 new positive COVID-19 cases for the previous day, with total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days dropping from 396 to almost 380 cases.

The Health Department also reported COVID-19 related hospitalizations dropped from 91 to 82, and four COVID-19 related fatalities were reported for the previous day.

Additionally on Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the COVID-19 community levels for Rhode Island’s counties.

Areas that had been designated as “high” – Bristol County, Kent County, Providence County, and Washington County – are now considered “medium.” However, Newport County, which was “medium,” is now designated as “high.”

Each week the CDC identifies the COVID-19 community level in every county in the country as “low,” “medium,” or “high” using case rates and data on hospital admissions and percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

In counties designated as “high,” the CDC recommends people wear high-quality masks while in indoor public settings.

Regardless of the designation in someone’s county, the Health Department recommends everyone should get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, including getting the recommended booster dose when eligible.