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Paxlovid, Pfizer's anti-viral medication to treat COVID-19.BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

Use of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid has jumped 315 per cent over the past four weeks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday, as health officials try to address unexpectedly light demand.

Nearly 115,000 courses of the pills were dispensed during the first week of May, a senior health official said. The White House said last month it was aiming to expand access to treatments like Paxlovid by doubling the number of locations at which they are available.

“In recent weeks we’ve gone from 20,000 sites with Paxlovid to approximately 35,000 and we’ll keep working to increase availability,” the official told reporters on a call, adding that 88% of the population lived within 5 miles (8 km) of a site.

A total of 668,954 courses out of the more than 2 million ordered by states, pharmacies and other providers were administered.

Paxlovid is approved to keep high-risk individuals with COVID-19 from becoming seriously ill. It is meant to taken for five days beginning shortly after symptom onset.

Providers ordered almost 1.8 million courses of molnupiravir, Merck & Co’s rival oral antiviral developed along with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, and 230,257 have been administered so far, the official added.

The amounts pale compared to overall supply with the U.S. currently having over 3.3 million Paxlovid courses and almost 3.2 million molnupiravir courses available, HHS data show.

“The number of cases was dropping down as our supply of Paxlovid was increasing so we didn’t see significant uptake until we’ve now been able to lean harder into the supply while also starting to see cases go up,” the official said.

The United States is averaging nearly 97,000 new cases a day, up from about 73,000 a week ago, according to a Reuters tally. Cases have been gradually rising since hitting a recent low of 30,000 new infections a day in late March.

Apple Inc is indefinitely delaying its plan requiring employees to work from office three days a week due to rising cases, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday estimated that about half of infections last week were from the BA.2.12.1 sublineage of the Omicron variant, which has been on the rise since mid-April and is already the dominant strain along much of the East Coast.

Based on population, the U.S. Northeast has seen the greatest rise in new cases in the last seven days, led by Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

There are currently nearly 20,000 people hospitalized across the country, up from 16,500 last week, according to a Reuters tally. Hospitalizations have also been steadily rising from a recent low of 12,000 in mid-April.

Based on population, the states with the most hospitalizations are Maine, New York and Delaware.

New York City raised its COVID-19 alert level to high on Tuesday with its health department strongly advising wearing masks in all public indoor settings for everyone and in crowded outdoor settings for those older than 65 or at high risk.

Deaths, a lagging indicator, have held fairly steady at a daily average between of 300 to 500. COVID-19 has killed more than a million U.S. residents since the start of the pandemic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the use of a booster shot of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, making everyone 5 or older eligible for a third shot.

The government has shipped around 360 million coronavirus tests to homes nationwide, the official said, and has opened a third round of ordering on its COVIDtest.gov website on Monday to allow additional requests.

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