After weeks of long lines at COVID-19 testing clinics, state and local officials said Connecticut is now facing a different problem: too many coronavirus tests and not enough people taking them.
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“Right now, we have more testing capacity than people are using,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday.
One day later, Lamont signed an executive order encouraging more people to get tested for the novel coronavirus. The order means patients who want a COVID-19 test no longer need a note from their doctor. It also lets pharmacies administer tests.
By May 20, the date Lamont is targeting for a slow reopening of the economy, the governor said he wants about 42,000 patients tested per week for COVID-19.
Currently, the state’s running about half that number.
How the state will close the gap in less than two weeks remains to be seen. Right now, the capacity for coronavirus testing at some hospitals and clinics is far outpacing demand.
At CVS’ rapid-coronavirus testing center in New Haven, up to 750 people a day can be tested. But Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said the site is seeing only about half that.
“There’s significant capacity there. I was actually on their website this morning and there were appointments available all day,” Geballe said.
Hartford HealthCare is performing about 5,000 tests per week with a capacity for about 15,000 a week, according to a spokesperson. Officials hope to grow that number to around 43,000 per week by the end of July.
State officials on Friday did not provide an estimate of Connecticut’s overall COVID-19 testing capacity.
Kaitlin Rocheleau, a spokesperson for Trinity Health, which represents medical centers in Connecticut and Massachusetts, said its network has performed nearly 20,000 coronavirus tests since the beginning of the pandemic.
She said demand is up and capacity is also growing.
But she said testing has fluctuated in response to issues in the supply chain. “Therefore, the number of tests performed each day has also fluctuated, ranging anywhere from 50 to 150 at any one of our drive-through test sites,” Rocheleau said in an email, adding that a partnership with Quest Diagnostics is expected to “increase that capacity significantly.”
The New Haven Independent reported that Yale New Haven Health, “which includes seven hospitals in Connecticut and Rhode Island, is currently conducting roughly 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day system-wide.”
Still, Connecticut needs to test more people if Lamont wants to hit his May 20 goal. The governor said in a statement Thursday night he is hopeful that waiving the requirement to have a doctor’s note will encourage residents without a primary care physician to get a test if they feel sick.
And earlier this week, Lamont said he hopes efforts to take mobile COVID-19 testing units into cities and nursing homes will help boost test numbers.
“We’re taking our testing mobile vans … out to the community to get more people tested,” Lamont said. “Those that maybe even are a little reluctant to be tested.”
But he said the state needs to do more about getting the word out to residents.
“We want you to get tested,” Lamont said. “I think it’s [in] the best interest of your health, your family’s health and your community’s health.”
“I have to do a better job in terms of public health education on that,” Lamont said.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said public health education is an issue. But he said the demand lag could also be a consequence of the state ramping up testing now, before large portions of the economy go back to work.
“It’s also, in part, a transition from testing symptomatic people to asymptomatic people,” Elicker said Thursday. “There will be some growing pains in that. Because all along, the testing has been quite limited. And as we increase our capacity, we’ll increase the types of people that we are interested in testing.”
Members of the governor’s task force said Thursday that if the state fails to reach the governor’s goal of 42,000 tests per week in less than two weeks, it’s won’t be a deal breaker for a May 20 reopening.
“The absolute number is not the important thing,” said Albert Ko, co-chair of Lamont’s reopening committee. “It’s what you do with those tests that is important.”
Like doing more targeted testing at nursing homes. As of Thursday, the state’s 160 licensed nursing facilities have seen more than 6,000 cases of coronavirus.
Ko said better understanding the spread of COVID there would be a major priority before May 20.
“To test not only the residents, but the workers,” Ko said. “Both will have to be protected in order to prevent the outbreaks that we’ve had in the past.”