Town Continues With COVID Test Kit Distribution
After 1,500 free COVID-19 test kits were successfully distributed January 2, the town and school system each received 1,800 more test kits. Town officials are now considering how best to dispense them.
The town initially weighed doing its second distribution day on Saturday, January 15, but with temperatures looking to dip into the teens that day, Health District Director Donna Culbert felt “we can’t ask volunteers to stand outside all day in those kinds of temperatures.
“We’re working on alternates for distribution, which are still up in the air,” Culbert told The Newtown Bee on January 12. Once details are determined, that information will be released through town channels as well as through The Newtown Bee and newtownbee.com.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Bee on January 10 that the town was also looking to do “some targeted distribution” of some of the kits on hand.
The town’s first distribution required residents to sign up online before January 2, when volunteers and Town employees distributed 1,300 of 1,500 kits it had set for the distribution, with the other 200 being people who could not make it that day and picked up afterward. Another 400 were set aside for the town’s fire companies, police department, and ambulance corps.
Knowing that the math was against him — Newtown has roughly 10,000 households, and received 2,600 tests (two are in each kit) — Rosenthal knew there was “no way to make everyone happy.
“That’s why I opted to go with a sign-up instead of first-come, first-serve,” the first selectman said this week. “We could only serve a small fraction of the community. I’d rather have people mad at me in their homes than mad because we had to turn them away when the kits ran out.”
The schools sent out an e-mail earlier this week stating how it will distribute its kits.
“The [Connecticut State Dept of Education] is providing these kits to help further protect staff, children, and families,” said Anne Dalton, school nursing supervisor, in the e-mail to parents. “The rapid home tests are to be used to screen those who are symptomatic, to determine who should not be present in school. The test kits are provided to address these needs if a child or staff person exhibits symptoms and needs to be screened for COVID-19; or if a child or staff member has a direct exposure to an individual with COVID-19.”
The test kits will be distributed to the families who need them by their schools. The school nurses will provide a test kit, when needed, to students being dismissed from school with symptoms.
If a student is home with symptoms or has had a direct exposure to a positive COVID-19 case, and the parents are unable to find testing, they are asked to follow a set of instructions. Each school will have a 30-minute daily pickup window.
For elementary school parents, contact the school’s main number to report the need for a test. Pickup of tests will begin at 4 pm at the security desk at the main entrance.
For Reed Intermediate School parents, leave a message on the main office line (203-270-4880) stating the need for a test. Pickup of tests opens at 4 pm at the main entrance.
For Newtown Middle School parents, e-mail NMS attendance stating the need for a test. Pickup opens at 3 pm daily at the main entrance.
For Newtown High School parents, indicate on the Attendance Google Form of the need for a test. Pickup of tests will begin at 3 pm; report to the security desk in the main lobby.
The e-mail notes that further instructions will be sent to parents as the schools streamline the test request process.
Hopeful For Downtrend
Rosenthal said that he is hopeful that signs are showing new infections are trending down, with numbers going down in New York state. He said that Newtown is “not dissimilar” from the rest of Fairfield County in infections and hospitalizations. He is hoping, he said, that now that the country is past New Year’s “things will crest and begin to decline as people who are smarter than I am indicate.”
When the mask mandate was put into place during the summer, the town was in a different position than it currently is, according to Rosenthal. Even though the infection rate is currently higher, in the summer there were no booster vaccines except for those who had compromised immune systems, and children under the age of 15 could not yet get vaccinated.
Rosenthal said that the town is running a booster clinic “almost weekly” and has had four over the past month. (See future vax clinic details on Page B3)
Rosenthal checks reports from the hospitals every day. He said last week, hospitalizations did go up Thursday into Friday, but the rate of increase was “not as vertical” as it has been in previous weeks. He said that the people who are getting the sickest “are still the unvaccinated.”
“My informed but not expert view is that we’d have massive problems with the health system if not for the vaccines,” Rosenthal said.
Additionally, while mask wearing is “not universal,” the town “still has more people wearing them in public than not.” Additionally, Culbert, as the town’s resident health expert, has not yet recommended that the town mandate masks, even though she does recommend that everyone should be wearing masks.
“People have to decide,” said Rosenthal. “It’s all about taking calculated risks if you go to different functions. We all know how we get COVID, and private gatherings are still the Achilles’ heel.”
Additionally, once someone has contracted COVID, usually from extended contact at a social gathering, more cases spring up when the individual returns home and the other people in the household are exposed.
“The prolonged exposure washes over whatever immunity a person has and eventually they get it,” said Rosenthal. “Then, everyone in the household has it.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.