COVID Test Kit, Mask Distributions Planned As Positivity Rate Soars
EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was modified Wednesday, December 29 at 11:45 am to remove details about a planned "first come first served" drive up process for test kit distribution. See separate report for online registration information.
* * * * *
Newtown's Emergency Management team will be distributing several thousand in-home COVID test kits Friday, the first local allocation coming from 3 million COVID-19 rapid tests and 6 million N95 masks the state acquired this week in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The news of the acquisition of test kits and masks came as Connecticut marked its highest COVID positivity rate since the onset of the pandemic locally in early 2020. According to a release from the Governor's Office, the positivity rate on December 27 stood at 10.71%. Over last weekend, Newtown surpassed the 3,000 mark with 3,034 cases on record as of Monday.
To date, the community has lost 67 residents to the virus, with the last COVID-related death being logged more than eight months ago.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal first notified The Newtown Bee shortly after meeting with the community's Emergency Management officials on December 28. But an original plan for a "first come, first served" drive-up distribution system was modified the following day requiring residents to apply for test kits online and to pick them up at assigned times on Friday, December 31.
Rosenthal said the distribution of Newtown's available public allocation will still be held at Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane, beginning at 10 am, and a maximum of two test kits containing four tests will be allowed per household.
"Newtown residents must present proof of residency to receive up to two kits," the first selectman said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has granted emergency use authorization for the iHealth COVID-19 antigen rapid test, which is completed with an anterior nasal swab and is not the deep nasal test. The complete instructions for the at-home rapid test are available on the iHealth packaging in English and Spanish.
Results are usually available in 15 minutes. More information on the iHealth antigen home test kits is available at ihealthlabs.com.
Officials from Hartford to Newtown are working to control the Omicron variant that has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 affecting the state and nation as positivity began to rapidly climb in the days following the weekend Christmas holidays. Statewide, the number of positive COVID-19 cases is approaching a half-million, and more than 9,000 state residents have succumbed to the virus since it was first detected here in early 2020.
The first statewide allocation will include 500,000 iHealth kits — each containing two tests — that will be designated for the general public. Newtown's first allocation of test kits numbers several thousand, far fewer than what might be requested from the community's 9,000-plus households.
"Our hope is to get this first round of testing kits into sixteen or seventeen hundred local households," Rosenthal said. "We are expecting another round of tests to become available along with [a separate allocation of] test kits that will be available through a school district distribution."
Further information will be available through the Newtown municipal website (newtown-ct.gov), through Newtown Senior Center, and in updates through The Newtown Bee print editions, its website newtownbee.com and the newspaper's social networks (Facebook, at facebook.com/TheNewtownBee; and Twitter @TheNewtownBee).
Masks Are Next
The Connecticut Department of Public Health, Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and Connecticut National Guard is overseeing the distribution of the kits, with support from regional and local emergency management teams. This initiative also will include the distribution of N95 masks.
State officials stress that details of the distribution of the kits and N95 masks are still being finalized and are subject to change this week.
In addition to those designated for the general public, the state has purchased another one million iHealth kits at will be distributed to K-12 schools statewide. Distribution of those kits, which will also include a supply of N95 masks, will begin in January and continue through the school year as supplies last.
Planning for this initiative is being conducted in partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Education. More details on the distribution of tests for schools will be announced in early January.
The total cost of the 3 million tests is approximately $18.5 million and will be paid for with federal funds.
“Connecticut is currently experiencing another surge in COVID-19 cases that is being driven mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” Governor Ned Lamont said December 27. “As a result, the demand for tests has outpaced the supply of testing available through our statewide network of about 400 sites. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is likely to be a period of high transmission, and we have to get 2022 off to a good start by helping residents identify COVID-19 quickly and take those steps to isolate appropriately to curb any further spread.”
The governor added that the addition of these at-home tests will immediately expand the number of tests available in Connecticut in a very short period. Last week, about 250,000 tests were reported to the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr Manisha Juthani said vaccination, masking, and testing are “three simple and effective interventions to fight off the current surge of COVID-19 from the Omicron variant.
“We will be distributing two of these — masks and tests — so that our communities can work as quickly as possible to get past this surge. I strongly encourage people to limit gathering sizes during this holiday week," the commissioner added.
Because of the scarcity of test kits, Juthani is asking residents to take only the kits needed for immediate family members.
She said if a self-test yields a positive result, there is no need to obtain a follow up polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
CDC Isolation Changes
US health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from ten to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The decision also was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the omicron variant.
Early research suggests omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus. But the sheer number of people becoming infected — and therefore having to isolate or quarantine — threatens to crush the ability of hospitals, airlines and other businesses to stay open, experts say.
That is where the soon-to-be distributed allocation of N95 masks plays an important role, Connecticut's public health commissioner said.
"Given the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant, it is most important to wear any mask both in public spaces and when interacting in close contact with individuals outside of your household, but an N95 mask will provide better protection," Juthani said. "We are distributing enough N95 masks for any Connecticut resident that would like one.”
“Residents who have not been vaccinated should get their COVID-19 vaccine now and can do so by visiting ct.gov/covidvaccine,” Juthani also said. “For all vaccinated people 16 and older that are eligible for a booster, please get one as soon as possible. For all school-age children 5 and older that are not vaccinated yet, please use this school break to get vaccinated. Vaccination saves lives and keeps people who get COVID out of the hospital.”
The Connecticut Department of Public Health is in the process of adding seven more community testing sites to its current roster of 23 state-sponsored sites.
Information on the approximately 400 COVID-19 testing sites currently operating in Connecticut is available by calling 211 or visiting 211CT.org.
Associated Press content was used in this report.
Reach Editor John Voket at email@example.com.