HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans to distribute a total of three million at-home rapid tests and six million N95 masks in Connecticut to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
For weeks, Lamont sidestepped the question as to whether he would send out at-home test kits to residents like other states do. He embraced the action Monday.
The governor said 500,000 iHealth kits – each containing two tests for a total of one million tests – will be set aside for the general public. Distribution of these kits to the general public is scheduled to begin Thursday, Dec. 30, and is expected to run through the first week of January.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and Connecticut National Guard will oversee the distribution.
An additional two million tests will be distributed to K-12 schools across the state starting in January and continue throughout the school year, while supplies last, Lamont said.
“Connecticut is currently experiencing another surge in COVID-19 cases that is being driven mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” Lamont said. “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.”
State officials said details of the distribution of the kits and N95 masks to the general public are still being finalized.
“It’s going to be up to our municipal partners to determine how that distribution will work,” Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said.
The state’s Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said he expects there will be controls.
“I would expect that proof of residency will be required for pick up in your town, so we don’t see people shopping around from town to town,” Geballe said.
“We have to make sure that we are prioritizing and making sure that these are going to go into the hands that will make the most impact,” Kevin Elak, City of Middletown’s acting director of health said.
More details on the distribution of tests to schools will be announced in early January, the governor’s office said.
“There’s a real supply chain crunch out there and we are doing everything we can to alleviate that,” Lamont said.
The total cost of the three million tests is approximately $18.5 million and will be funded through federal funds, according to the governor’s office.
Lamont said it’s important parents have confidence.
“It allows them to get back to work and stay at work,” Lamont said. “We know how important that is. We don’t want our economy closing down. We don’t want to lock down, and anything we can do to keep our schools open is a real key.”
House GOP Leader Vincent Candelora responded to Lamont’s announcement saying, “I appreciate that the governor has procured these tests, but to make a media announcement like this absence of a concrete plan, particularly as it relates to how they’ll be distributed or even used to keep kids out of quarantine and in their classrooms, will certainly see leaders of cities, towns and school districts wanting more. Leaving local officials scrambling to immediately figure out what steps to take from here seems like a catalyst for confusion, and I really hope the governor and his team give a second thought to offering municipalities much firmer guidance than what was vaguely described during his news conference today.”
Some leaders are calling on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act for more at-home tests. Lamont said of a call with Biden Monday, the president said he will do everything he can “as needed.”
Dr. Ulysss Wu from Hartford HealthCare said testing is important.
“It does provide some reassurance when you have a negative test that it could truly be negative at that point especially if you are asymptomatic,” Wu said.
He said the combination of waning immunity, more people heading inside because of cold temperatures, social gatherings which include the unvaccinated are adding to the spike in cases.
“The issue here is not omicron, the issue has always been the bogeyman in the house, which is delta,” Wu said.
Healthcare professionals say the best defense is to get vaccinated, get boosted, and wear a mask.