MERIDEN — With New Year’s Eve gatherings anticipated, city health officials on Wednesday announced the distribution of at-home COVID-19 test kits for city residents.
The free kits are available for pick up in the lobby of the Meriden Department of Health and Human Services at 165 Miller St., from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The kits will also be available for pick up at the Meriden Senior Center, the Meriden Public Library’s mall location, and from Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s office in City Hall.
The announcement comes amid the holiday season, traditionally a time for travel and family gatherings. Last January saw a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, as the omicron variant became the dominant strain of the novel coronavirus.
Laboratory testing for the coronavirus, through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, will still be available through local pharmacies, MidState Medical Center and through Community Health Center.
The state is closing its 13 Orange St. testing site this week.
Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown said the city has received 9,900 kits in its latest shipment from the state Department of Public Health. Each kit contains two tests, meaning the city has 19,800 tests to distribute.
“They don’t do any good in our office. So we would encourage residents to come by and pick them up,” Crown said.
Crown recommended that individuals, if they’re planning to attend any large gatherings, take a test before attending. She also recommended residents, if they have not received COVID-19 vaccination boosters, to be up-to-date on their boosters.
The health department itself offers Moderna vaccine booster shots. Other boosters are regularly available at local pharmacies, MidState Medical Center, Community Health Center and at other pop up clinics the department promotes throughout the city. Information about those vaccination sites can be found through the Health and Human Services page on the city of Meriden website, meridenct.gov, or through the department’s Facebook page.
Crown said there will be vaccination clinics in early January, offered through the city’s partnership with Griffin Health. Crown recommended residents call her department if they have questions about vaccines and if they’re seeking guidance around quarantine if they or a member of their household tests positive for COVID-19.
“If a member of their family is in quarantine we can work through all of those questions with them,” Crown said.
Crown’s department continues to employ two part-time contact tracers tasked with calling residents who have received lab confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses.
As for the current cases those contact tracers are reviewing, they are not connected with a single outbreak event.
Crown said the latest cases have a “a lot to do with travel, social gatherings, family gatherings and people not being up-to-date on their booster shots.”
City health data show in December 2021, 1,907 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported. So far this month, 332 cases were reported.
Last January, during the omicron variant spike, the city saw its most significant increase in cases, with 3,968 reported cases.
The testing focus has shifted since then.
Earlier on into the pandemic, officials focused on rates of test positivity to track COVID-19 trends. Crown said health officials no longer go by those figures, noting with the trend of home tests, which are not reported to health officials, it is not possible to track every single case.
“We’re really looking for rates of hospitalization and deaths,” Crown said, adding that the goal now for public health leaders is to conduct investigations when officials know there is an outbreak.
For example, if officials identify a single event with a significant number of cases, they could notify organizers of that event to alert attendees that test kits are available.
“We’ll look at any other possible mitigation strategies for future events, depending on what the trends are,” Crown said.
Those strategies might include recommendations to limit the number of attendees to future events, encouraging mask wearing, as well as the use of hand sanitizer and handwashing.
Crown recommended if people are not feeling well, whether they’ve had a COVID-19 test or not, to stay home.
COVID-19 is just one of several respiratory illnesses that are currently spreading. Other viruses include influenza, the norovirus and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.