California Gov. Gavin Newsom receives a COVID-19 booster shot Oct. 27, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. from state Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly. (Courtesy of Gov. Newsom's office)

COVID-19 testing capacity will expand across the state in the coming weeks as public health officials in an effort to make it easier to access both testing and prescription treatments, state health officials said Wednesday.

The California Department of Public Health and OptumServe Federal Health Services plan to launch 146 “test and treat” sites that will allow those who test positive to consult with a health care expert and receive a prescription for antiviral medication like Paxlovid or molnupiravir, if necessary.

State officials said the test and treat sites will improve health care access for the state’s uninsured residents and for those who live in areas that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“Our goal is to help Californians recover if they get COVID-19 and ensure high-risk patients have access to treatments that can keep them out of the hospital,” CDPH Director and state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon said.

State officials have urged residents in recent weeks to test more often for the virus as COVID cases have increased statewide, largely due to the omicron subvariant BA.2, which health experts have said is even more contagious than the original omicron variant that pushed cases to record highs during the state’s winter surge.

Officials have also urged residents who completed their initial vaccination series at least five months ago to get a booster vaccine dose to bolster their immune response to the virus.

Those who are 50 and older, immunocompromised or who initially received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also eligible for a second booster dose.

“Vaccines have saved tens of thousands of lives in California, and with COVID-19 still prevalent, we can’t afford to let our guard down,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who received his second booster Wednesday at a clinic in Bakersfield. “The best protection against serious illness and hospitalization is getting vaccinated and boosted.”

According to a study published last month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, COVID vaccinations prevented an estimated 1.5 million cases, 72,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths through mid-October 2021.

According to state data, unvaccinated residents have been nearly 5 times more likely to contract the virus than those who are vaccinated and boosted, 6.5 times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly 8 times more likely to die.

Californians are encouraged to visit the state’s vaccination appointment scheduling tool, https://myturn.ca.gov, or call 1 (833) 422-4255 to determine where to get vaccinated.

Vaccination and testing information can also be obtained via a person’s local health department.