Published December 27. 2021 3:30PM | Updated December 27. 2021 4:57PM
By Sten Spinella Day staff writer
Connecticut will distribute three million COVID-19 at-home rapid tests and six million N95 masks starting Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
The effort is meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus during the holiday season as people travel to see relatives in the midst of a surge of cases due to the omicron variant.
During a news conference on Monday, Lamont acknowledged the discouraging numbers in terms of increasing hospitalizations and positivity rate across the state, saying, “This spread is something that’s concerning.”
“I saw the urgency a lot of people felt on their way to vacation to get testing, now on their way back to get testing,” Lamont said Monday.
He later added, “We don’t want our economy closing down, we don’t want a lockdown, and I think anything we can do to keep the schools open is really key.”
On Thursday the state Department of Public Health, the state Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the Connecticut National Guard will begin the distribution of masks and tests with 500,000 iHealth at-home test kits. Each kit holds two tests, accounting for one million in all. Distribution is expected to last about a week.
The other two million tests are going specifically to K-12 schools throughout the state in the form of one million kits. The state Department of Education is assisting in planning distribution for schools. Officials promised more information for distribution in schools early next month.
Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said schools won’t have any issue getting masks.
“We are in very preliminary phases of just having secured the tests, are in the process of discussing with our education colleagues, and the decision on how many masks the schools want and need will be determined in the days going forward,” Juthani said Monday. “Anybody in the state of Connecticut will be able to get a mask.”
Ledge Light Health District Director Steve Mansfield told The Day Monday that the details for where masks and tests would be distributed locally have not been worked out yet.
“It is my understanding that the kits will be delivered to DPH on Wednesday, distributed to RDS [regional distribution sites] on Thursday for pick up by municipalities,” Mansfield said. “Municipalities will then decide how to distribute the kits to their populations. I haven’t heard any detail about the mask distribution.”
Lamont and other state officials also said distribution details have yet to be finalized.
“The municipalities will set out the rules for distribution within your towns,” state Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe said during Monday’s press conference. “I would expect proof of residency be required so people aren’t shopping town to town. Toward midweek look to your municipality for guidance on distribution logistics, probably by Wednesday or so.”
Geballe also explained how Connecticut went to “the front of the line,” as Lamont put it, for obtaining these tests and masks. He said the state had experience from early on in the pandemic from tracking down PPE and at the time built relationships with people. The state estimated it will spend $18.5 million in federal funds to obtain the tests and masks.
“We leveraged one of those relationships to get this done,” he said.
Officials said municipalities would have information on town and city websites. Lamont noted he thought municipalities would know best where to set up sites for people to access the tests and masks.
Asked how sending out millions of at-home tests with unreported results would affect the state’s positivity rate, Juthani characterized the positivity rate as an indicator of upward or downward trajectories, so even without an exact measurement, “It still does give us a reflection of what’s going on in the community.”
Geballe said that the state is at 74% capacity for its total hospital beds right now and 78% for ICU beds. Both percentages are a statewide average.
The state has had 88 additional hospitalizations since Thursday, with 925 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. That is three times more than one month ago.
The state has conducted 136,857 COVID tests since Thursday with 14,654 positive results, resulting in a 10.71% positivity rate.
New London County has had 34,949 cases since the pandemic began and 521 deaths. According to the latest state numbers, 67 people are hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19.