As COVID cases rise, Meriden looks to increase access to free testing

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MERIDEN — The city is scheduled to open a no-cost COVID-19 testing site this week in response to the growing number of infections locally and the need for greater access to testing.

As of Sept. 9, city health officials reported 114 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases for the month in Meriden. 

Lea Crown, the city’s director of Health and Human Services, said that number exceeded the 97 cases that had been reported in the entire month of September in 2020.  

Crown discussed those numbers and shared other updates related to the pandemic during a virtual meeting of the City Council’s Human Services Committee last week. 

“So we’re certainly not trending in the right direction and we’re taking appropriate steps to hopefully address this with our community,” Crown told committee members on Sept. 9. 

With school back in session, Crown’s department is looking to increase the city’s capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing, in addition to its ongoing vaccination distribution efforts and contact tracing. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, local health officials are looking to increase access to testing. Earlier in the year, efforts were more geared toward encouraging vaccination.

“Now we’re seeing a shift back to testing,” Crown said. 

Testing will become more available in a section of Meriden with the city’s lowest vaccination rates, as reported through its census tracts. With a vaccination rate of 56.1% the span Crown described includes Hall Avenue, Crown Street Extension, the area around Ceppa Field and Lyman Avenue. 

The city will launch a new no-cost testing site in that area. Wren Laboratories will set up a pop-up testing site in the parking lot of 13 Orange St. Starting today, the facility will be open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursdays 3  to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Crown said. 

Crown said she sought to increase access to no-cost testing after receiving anecdotal reports residents were being charged for COVID-19 tests their insurance wouldn’t cover. In several incidents, residents reported they had been charged $175 or more. 

In addition to no-cost testing, Crown said her department is also focused on maintaining robust contact tracing. The health department currently employs three part-time contact tracers, including one who is bilingual. 

State assistance with contact tracing will continue for another four weeks, before it is turned over entirely to local health departments, Crown said. 

Preventing spread

At this point, the city’s contact tracing efforts are particularly focused on cases reported among individuals under 18, Crown explained. By focusing on that age group, officials are trying to be proactive in stopping the coronavirus from spreading in schools. 

Data reported on the Meriden Public School’s COVID-19 dashboard as of last week showed six of the district’s 14 schools have reported cases, with limited numbers of students in quarantine because they’ve been identified as close contacts. The dashboard showed no confirmed COVID-19 positive cases among school staff and no  staff were in quarantine.

Crown, in an email to the Record-Journal the day after the Human Services Committee meeting, said her department and the school district are following state recommended strategies to reduce the spread and encouraged families to assist in the effort.

“We need parents to not send their children to school if they are feeling ill with symptoms of COVID-19, and keep their children who may have been told to quarantine home until their quarantine period is over,” Crown wrote. 

Vaccination rates

During the Human Services Committee meeting, Crown also provided an update on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the city. 

So far more than 59% of Meriden residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated, according to data reported by the state Department of Public Health. Close to 65% of eligible residents have received at least an initial dose. 

The age group where officials are seeing the most increase in vaccination rates is 12-to-17-year-olds, Crown noted. As of Sept. 8, close to 64% of that population had received at least one vaccine dose and just shy of 53% were fully vaccinated. 

“I really have to give a shout out to our 12-to-17 year old residents,” Crown said. 

Another group that has seen similar increases is 18-to-24-year-olds. Local officials believe vaccine mandates enacted by colleges and universities in Connecticut may have helped drive that increase. The 25-to-44-year-old age group, meanwhile, has seen slower increases. 

Gains among minorities

The data Crown shared also showed most gaps in vaccination rates along racial and ethnic lines continues to narrow. As of Sept. 8, more than 59% of vaccine eligible Latino residents had received an initial dose. Meanwhile, just over 56% of vaccine-eligible white residents and 52.4% of vaccine-eligible Black residents were similarly vaccinated. The least vaccinated group, at 35.4%, was Native Americans. 

Crown said since early June, when the state began to report detailed data regarding race and ethnicity in its vaccine distribution reports, the city has seen large increases in vaccination rates among minority residents, even more so than among the city’s non-Latino white population. 

The city had received a state grant to improve vaccine equity, which Crown said she believes may have contributed to improved rates. 

“But I cannot make a direct correlation,” she said. 

Vaccine availability will increase with new weekly clinics run by the Community Health Center. The Meriden Boys and Girls Club and Meriden YMCA will host the clinics, which will continue until the third week of December, Crown said. 

In addition, vaccines are available through clinics offered by Hartford Healthcare and from local pharmacies, Crown said. 



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