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COVID-19 positivity rate hits record 15% as testing demand surges

New Haven Green Covid Testing
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Hakan Jackson seals his COVID-19 test after spitting into a tube at a testing site on the New Haven Green. Residents lined up for testing Tuesday afternoon as the state’s positivity rate hit a record 14.98%. In New Haven, officials said they are set to receive 30,000 test kits purchased by the state.

Connecticut’s daily COVID-19 testing rate has continued to climb since the spread of the omicron variant hit the state, with a record 14.98% positivity rate reported Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said that a state plan to order and distribute millions of rapid COVID-19 test kits and N95 masks should help stem the surge, but many of the kits won’t be available to most residents until Friday. It’s up to local towns and cities to distribute the test kits and masks, but Lamont said Tuesday that he will call up the Connecticut National Guard to help.

In New Haven, officials said they are set to receive 30,000 test kits purchased by the state. In a city of about 130,000 residents, that's enough to give one kit to about 23% of the population. Officials said that’s why they first are prioritizing sending test kits to the city’s most vulnerable residents, through nonprofits that work with unhoused residents.

“There will be two mass distributions to New Haven residents, one Friday and one Saturday,” said Mayor Justin Elicker. “We’re working out details and we are not yet ready to release locations or logistics around those.”

Elicker said demand for COVID-19 testing has overwhelmed the city, with two new test sites near Long Wharf and on the New Haven Green facing long lines of 40 people or more. Elicker advised checking the city’s website to sign up for a test appointment time, rather than walking up.

New Haven Green Covid Testing
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
People sign up to receive COVID saliva tests on the New Haven Green at a site run by Wren Laboratories. The line for testing was over 50 people long throughout the afternoon as the state’s positivity rate hit a record 14.98%.

Health Director Maritza Bond reminded residents to follow the city’s mask mandate as community spread of the omicron variant is happening, and it’s safe to assume 1 in 4 residents has it.

Meanwhile, towns in Fairfield County prepared for distribution of at-home test kits and masks.

The city of Norwalk is one of them. Josh Morgan, Norwalk’s director of communications, said distribution remains a work in progress, but Norwalk is planning a drive-thru event before New Year’s Eve.

“The holidays are a time of travel and gathering, a lot of which are happening indoors, where transmission risk is much greater,” Morgan said. “So having rapid tests available for folks to check themselves before they go out to dinner or attend the party – it’s just another tool in our tool belt to help [fight] the spread of the virus.”

Each Norwalk household can receive up to four kits, and proof of residency is mandatory. The city’s state-sponsored testing site is expected to reach capacity all week.

Danbury officials told Connecticut Public that their plan is similar. Matt Cassavechia, the city’s emergency management director, will lead the distribution.

“We like the idea of these tests because a positive test would give an individual at least some information that they can take further steps to perhaps quarantine or stay away from others,“ Cassavechia said.

He said Danbury’s distribution plan depends on when the city actually receives the tests. If they’re given to the city Thursday morning, he said they could be distributed as early as that afternoon. A drive-thru event should be expected, with two kits per car as the limit.

State officials encourage residents to check the website of their municipality of residence to see when and where test kit distribution will take place.

Cassandra Basler is a radio reporter and editor at Connecticut Public. She has covered juvenile justice, the opioid crisis, immigration, social justice and inequity. You can find her reporting in New Haven and Fairfield counties. She previously worked at WSHU Public Radio and her work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.
Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.
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