MERIDEN — With the Thanksgiving holiday just a week away and COVID-19 cases surging health industry leaders are reporting hours long wait times at area testing sites.
For example, the drive-thru testing site at MidState Medical Center was averaging wait times well over two hours Thursday. Another site, Community Health Center, 134 State St., was experiencing similar lengthy waits. Meanwhile, the wait for results may take days. The surges in testing and the number of COVID-19 cases so far has not led to the same number of hospitalizations that had strained area hospitals last spring.
In a news briefing with reporters Thursday morning, leaders of Hartford Healthcare network, which operates MidState, reported testing capacity as being a stressor on the system. Meanwhile, hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 has been less of a stressor. Hartford Healthcare’s hospitals currently have 219 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those patients, 25 are at MidState. Leaders expressed confidence the system has the capacity to manage a continuing influx of patients in the coming weeks.
Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer for Hartford Healthcare, said since the pandemic’s arrival in Connecticut last March, the system has conducted close to 500,000 tests for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
About one-quarter of those tests had been conducted over the past four weeks, Cardon said, adding the increased demand for testing “is stressing our current operation.”
Cardon described efforts to increase testing capacity, by extending hours, expanding thru points at current testing sites, hiring more staff and utilizing alternative sites.
Cardon said systemwide Hartford Healthcare is currently conducting between 30,000 to 40,000 tests per week. Testing at that rate is “likely going to continue for some time,” he added.
Like Hartford Healthcare, Community Health Center, which operates 15 permanent medical facilities along with daily “pop up” sites, has also seen increased demand for testing, reported Leslie Gianelli, the center’s vice president of communication.
Maloney High School on Gravel Street will be host to one of those pop up sites on Sunday. Testing will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“The demand is very heavy,” said Gianelli.
When the spread of COVID-19 had slowed over the summer, the center’s facilities averaged around 600 daily tests. Now Community Health is doing around 4,500 daily.
“It’s up significantly,” Gianelli said. So the agency has expanded the availability of testing, to seven days a week.
“The increased testing demand was aligned with the positivity numbers going up,” Gianelli said. “People started having concerns about being exposed.”
Gianelli urged residents concerned about possible exposure not to hesitate to get tested, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
“Don’t hesitate to get tested. Get a test as soon as possible. Get in line early,” Gianelli said, acknowledging the long waits.
Many sites like Community Health Center and those operated by Hartford Healthcare don’t require an appointment to get tested, although leaders recommended registering ahead of time.
After patients have samples collected they will receive their results through what Gianelli called digital portals. “It’s a combination of texting and phone calls,” she said on how patients receive their results.
Gianelli said it’s difficult to know for sure what is driving the increased demand for testing.
“I think people are concerned about the potential for transmitting the virus to family members,” she said.