When it comes to distributing two new COVID-19 treatments in New York, officials have been instructed to prioritize nonwhite people as the state contends with a surge in cases with the emergence of the omicron variant.

The New York Department of Health released a memo Monday outlining a plan for prioritizing distribution of the limited supply of the antiviral treatment molnupiravir, which is manufactured by Merck, and the antiviral pill Paxlovid, manufactured by Pfizer. Both treatments are for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 at high risk of progression to a severe case, and both were approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week under the Emergency Use Authorization.

Included in the memo is a section on eligibility that includes a criterion that people must have a medical condition or other factors that increase their risk for severe illness. A bullet point below that criterion said people who are nonwhite or Hispanic/Latino should be considered as having a risk factor and therefore meets that criterion.


"Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19," the document said.

Erin Silk, a spokeswoman for the state's health department, stressed to the Washington Examiner that being white does not disqualify an individual from receiving treatment. She also noted that the eligibility guideline comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Systemic poverty, which has clearly proven to be a risk factor in populations in New York State and nationwide, is added to the algorithm of prioritization similar to all other risk factors," Silk said. "It is merely mentioned as a factor that increases risk."


Other eligibility requirements include: The individual must be at least 12 years or older weighing at least 88 pounds for Paxlovid or 18 years or older for molnupiravir, must test positive for SARS-CoV-2 on a nucleic acid amplification test or antigen test, must have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, cannot be hospitalized due to severe or critical COVID-19, and must be able to start treatment within five days of symptom onset.

With the onset of the omicron variant, New York hit a record high of 82,350 COVID-19 cases Dec. 26 while related deaths remain relatively low. The state reported 71,787 COVID-19 cases Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The state reported 98 deaths Thursday, well below the state's record of 1,271 deaths.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has implemented a number of measures designed to stem the spread as outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced backlash for a vaccine mandate for private business employees.