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Long lines across CT for COVID test kits; Documents show the state expects more soon

A line of cars wait to receive COVID-19 test kits at the Wethersfield High School. The city website announced that the distribution would begin at 10 a.m., but cars lined up at 6:30 in the morning.
Yehyun Kim
A line of cars wait to receive COVID-19 test kits at the Wethersfield High School. The city website announced that the distribution would begin at 10 a.m., but cars lined up at 6:30 in the morning.

Long lines of angry residents were the norm in towns from Ansonia to South Windsor on Monday as local officials distributed what few at-home COVID test kids they had, then turned away people who had waited in their cars for hours.

In Ansonia, Mayor David Cassetti warned people in a robocall on Sunday night that the city had a limited supply of kits to give away at Nolan Field on Monday morning. He cautioned people not to come and line up early, but people didn’t heed the request, and the line of cars stretched into neighboring Seymour and almost onto Route 8.

“There were a lot of people who were turned away without any test kits. People were blaming me, and it’s not my fault we got 2,600 kits for a city of 19,000 people,” Cassetti said. Ansonia ran out of kits in just over an hour.

But the state’s distribution of test kits may soon get a boost, as the state has agreements to purchase more than 2 million test kits at a cost of about $20 million, according to documents reviewed by The Connecticut Mirror. The tests are supposed to be arriving in the next few days.

The largest deal is with iHealth Labs of Sunnyvale, Calif., the same company the state thought it was getting three million kits from last week. The new purchase order with iHealth calls for the company to deliver 1,250,000 kits starting as early as Tuesday.

The state is paying 21 cents more per test to iHealth under the newest deal, the records show.

There is another purchase order with a company called Medical Solutions Inc. based in Brooklyn Park, Minn. That purchase order calls for the state to get 800,000 test kits at a cost of $4.2 million or about $5.34 each.

Those kits are supposed to be delivered by Wednesday, records show.

Purchase orders also show where the state bought the roughly 500,000 test kits that came in late last week after the initial deal fell through. All four of the shipments were from CVS Pharmacy. The state paid the Rhode Island-based company $6.2 million, records show.

Gov. Lamont’s spokesman Max Reiss said state officials have continued to search for more test kits since last week and more are expected in.

“The order of these tests reflects exactly what we’ve been saying, which is that we’re expanding our testing network to include these at-home rapid tests, and we’ve cast a wide net to get them into our state,” Reiss said. “We’re going to continue to distribute them as they come in to get them into our residents’ hands.”

As of midday Monday, the state had distributed 581,000 kits, Reiss said.

The majority of them, 540,000, went to municipalities, but the state also has distributed 39,000 to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, 20,000 to faith-based groups and smaller allotments to Food Share, Veteran’s Affairs, the state Department of Housing and the state Department of Developmental Services.

‘Breaks a bit of trust’

Many local officials were still smarting from last week when they worked overtime to prepare to receive the test kits that never came.

“It was very disappointing to be told to be ready quickly so we had to order people in off vacation or pay overtime only to get whiplash when the state said they didn’t have the tests,” South Windsor Town Manager Michael Maniscalco said Monday morning.

“It certainly wasn’t fair, and it breaks a bit of the trust with the state,” Maniscalco said.

South Windsor’s distribution was supposed to be from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday at Rye Park, and in a note on the town’s website, Maniscalco cautioned residents not to come too early, but police were reporting cars on the street by 10 a.m.

Edward and Marge Peruccio arrived at 10:15 a.m. and parked nearby, waiting for police to let people into the park. They were one of the first to get their test kits.

“This was basically our whole day, getting two test kits, but people wait three, four hours in line to get tested only to be told there’s no more tests, so we think it’s worth the wait,” Marge Peruccio said.

Farther back in the line, which stretched well over a mile in two different directions, people fretted whether they’d make it to the front.

Franco and Judith Scalora arrived around 12:30 p.m. A family member had tested positive for COVID, and they were hoping to get the rapid tests kits rather than fight to get an appointment at a testing site.

“We know of at least two family members who have now tested positive that we have been with recently, and since there just isn’t anywhere to get a test quickly, we thought it made sense to come and sit in line and get them here,” Judith Scalora said as they waited at least a half-mile from the park.

As they spoke, a South Windsor officer, who appeared to be counting cars, drove by them in his SUV — giving them hope that since he had driven last them that they would make the cut. But police said they were just trying to make cars push closer to the side of the road in an attempt to make a lane in the middle of the two-lane road so cars not wanting to be stuck in line could get through the traffic.

While the Scaloras were trying to get in, John Wonsick was parked on the long access road leading into the park, assuring that he would get some kits.

“This is just crazy, but we knew there’d be long lines and we’d have to wait, because that’s happening everywhere,” Wonsick said. “There’s got to be a better way to do this.”

The scene was the same at several other locations on Monday. In Rocky Hill, officials gave out 1,500 test kits in about 90 minutes, according to Town Manager Stephen Pendl. In nearby Wethersfield, cars packed the high school parking lot, and officials gave out 1,300 kits in barely an hour.

South Windsor ended up with 1,986 kits, about 1,500 fewer than they originally were slated to get. Like in most towns, some tests were held for first responders and for teachers.

It’s unclear how many test kits each community can expect now, because the state hasn’t publicized an updated list. The original list determined by state Department of Public Health officials was sent to emergency management directors last week when the state anticipated getting 3 million tests.

But late last week, Lamont announced that those tests were never coming to Connecticut.

At a press conference Friday at the state’s warehouse in New Britain, Lamont said officials should not have publicized the test kit program until they had them in hand and that going forward they would be “under promising and over delivering.”

Lamont compared the hunt for test kits to the global search for masks back in the spring of 2020 when it was “like the Wild West.”

“It is complicated. It’s a little like it was for the masks back a year and a half ago. It’s not like Federal Express where they say it’s going to be delivered at 10 o’clock the next morning and if it’s not there, you get your money back,” Lamont said.

The wholesaler the state was working with on the deal, Jack Rubenstein CT LLC of Glastonbury, had done business with the state previously and had helped the state procure millions of N95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic. In the last two years, the state paid the company nearly $15 million to procure PPE.

The state signed an $18.5 million purchase order with the Glastonbury company on Dec. 26. The agreement called for the wholesaler to deliver 1.5 million at home testing kits made by iHealth for the state, according to a purchase order.

Jack Rubenstein CT LLC is owned by Jeffrey Barlow. In a brief phone conversation with the CT Mirror on Thursday, Barlow said he couldn’t talk about the contract because he was busy.

“I’m in the middle of working on supply chain stuff right now,” Barlow said, adding he didn’t know yet when any kits would arrive in Connecticut, before politely saying he had to hang up.

The state hasn’t paid Barlow any of the $18.5 million yet, according to state comptroller records.

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