Meriden opts for weekend test kit distribution to increase access

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The city set its at-home COVID-19 rapid test kit distribution for this Saturday to allow people who work Monday through Friday the opportunity to get free tests at one of two sites, city officials said, while surrounding towns, including Wallingford and Cheshire on Tuesday and Southington on Monday, moved forward with distribution.

“Based off of public feedback from our first distribution attempt, a weekend event was decided upon to accommodate residents that could not make a weekday event,” Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown stated in an email. “The two distribution sites are not in use on the weekend, which will allow us to set up the site (for) better traffic flow.”

The city will distribute 2,400 test kits and N95 masks to residents who arrive Saturday at 10 a.m. at Lincoln and Edison middle schools. The masks and kits will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Meriden was prepared for a distribution event last week at a downtown location but the kits did not arrive and the event was canceled. Since then, city officials wanted to split the test kit distribution into two locations to avoid traffic tie-ups that have been reported in other towns. 

The kits that will be given out Saturday are currently warehoused in the city. The 2,000 remaining kits will go to first responders, the senior center, churches, non-profits who work with high-risk individuals, and the homeless shelter.

Crown said people with exposure, who are currently symptomatic or unvaccinated, should consider attending the distribution event. 

“They are to be used as soon as possible and not tossed in a drawer for future use,” Crown said. 

Southington had its driveup distribution event Monday afternoon at the Southington Drive-In and exhausted its supply within a few hours. Wallingford distributed test kits and masks Tuesday at the Oakdale Theater and Cheshire did the same at Quinnipiac Park. 

 The state’s distribution of test kits may soon get a boost, as the state has agreements to purchase more than 2 million test kits at a cost of about $20 million, according to documents reviewed by The Connecticut Mirror. The tests are supposed to be arriving in the next few days.

But Crown is not expecting additional tests before Saturday’s test distribution, she said. People who cannot get tests at the event should check the list of state-sponsored test sites, she said. On Monday, Hartford HealthCare officials said they were expanding the number of testing trailers at various locations and are looking to open two new ones, including one at MidState Medical Center in Meriden. 

Urgent need

Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati said Tuesday he didn’t agree that the city should wait until Saturday to distribute the rapid COVID-19 test kits, particularly since the spread of the virus had intensified to a 24 percent statewide positivity rate as of Tuesday. 

“I agree we should be getting these kits out as quick as possible,” Scarpati said. “We want to make sure it’s quick and the second site at Lincoln Middle School will help. I like the fact that we’re doing a drive-up only. But this is something that should clearly be getting out sooner.” 

Scarpati said he understood the logistical reasons for selecting Saturday for distribution but added that all testing should be ramped up in the near future to slow the surge. This includes testing operations with community health partners such as Hartford HealthCare, the parent company of MidState Medical Center. 

Health officials expect the at-home test kits will skew the state’s tracking because the general public is not mandated to report positive results, but are urged to do so.

If people test negative but are symptomatic they should if possible, seek a PCR test, Crown said.

“Due to high demand though this may not be possible,” Crown said. “The person should stay home until symptoms significantly resolve. They should also reach out to their doctor for guidance.”

Crown added that if someone tests positive, they should stay home for five days from symptom onset or the date of their asymptomatic positive result. If someone is still not feeling well at day six, they should continue to stay home until their symptoms improve. After the five-day isolation, the individual should wear a mask at all times when around others for an additional five days. People should also contact anyone they were with 48 hours to symptom onset or 48 hours prior to the asymptomatic positive result to let them know they tested positive.

Those individuals may need to quarantine based on vaccination and booster status.

Dr. Ulysses Wu, an infectious disease specialist with Hartford HealthCare, offered an optimistic take on the situation in Connecticut in the coming weeks. 

“Right now, what we’re dealing with is interaction with omicron and delta,” Wu told reporters. “The next couple of weeks we will see a clarity of what direction we are heading and I do think it’s favorable. I remain positive. We are in an unprecedented time, where things are changing on a day-to-day basis. There should be clarity from here out.”

‘No perfect scenario’

Wallingford's drive-through distribution event began at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and cars began lining up before 3 p.m., said the town's fire chief and emergency management director, Joseph Czentnar.

The event was scheduled to run until 7 p.m.  As of 5:30 p.m., about halfway through the event, cars were still backed up along South Turnpike Road, according to the observation of an area business owner.

The town received 2,800 test kits. Town health department staff worked outside to bundle each kit with five N95 masks. Police officers assisted with checking identification, as the event was open to town residents only.

One kit was allotted per household. Some people carpooled, and if each person had a different address, they were able to get one kit per person.

Town Health Director Steve Civitelli, who was helping to hand out the items, said that the school district is planning on having its own test distribution this week.

As of 4:30 p.m., about 482 bundles of test kits and masks had been distributed.

Czentnar responded Tuesday to questions about access for people who don't have cars. He said that a drive-through was the safest, quickest way to distribute the items on such short notice, but a walk-up option is "certainly something I'm sure we can discuss in the future if we have another distribution."

"Everybody's got to react so fast," he said. "We were just fixated on passing them through and getting them to the community ASAP, in order to hit the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time. We picked Oakdale Theater for this venue to do that, and it creates a lot of backup traffic, but we know that there's no perfect scenario here."

Reporter Lauren Takores contributed to this story. 

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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