Nine months into the pandemic, New Haven officials say they are keeping their focus on accessible COVID-19 testing for residents as cases continue to grow.
Their model has consisted of a mix of community partnerships with local health groups Fair Haven Community Health and Cornell Scott Hill Health, along with neighborhood popups sites. The latest is with Yale New Haven Health at the Boys and Girls Club on Columbus Avenue.
“We were planning on having a family Thanksgiving and I wanted to get checked,” said Mark Simon of Branford. Finding asymptomatic testing near his home was a challenge, and the YNHH location at the Boys and Girls Club was the closest.
He told NBC Connecticut his family agreed to skip the Thanksgiving dinner. He says he kept Monday’s appointment he booked last week because it’s important to get tested.
“The only way we’re gonna slow COVID down is to test and stay separated and wear masks. It’s the only way we’re going to deal with it,” said Simon.
Testing at the Boys and Girls Club is held in the gym at the back of the building, separate from the front of the center where children are attending distant learning hubs. The Club is a mainstay in the Hill neighborhood and officials say they knew what it meant to bring the testing to area residents.
“I felt it was really important to provide a service to the community, not only right here in the Hill but the whole greater New Haven community,” said Barbara Chesler, interim executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven.
The city has coordinated popups over the last several months on the Green, at schools, in Yale New Haven COVID testing vans and at parks. Health Director Maritza Bond says they wanted to remove barriers to access from the beginning.
“When we meet with our testing partners it’s critical that we’re thinking about the population as a whole and when people are able to get tested,” said Bond.
The city’s COVID-19 testing logistics team monitors hotspots throughout neighborhoods to determine locations that could be easy for people to get to on foot or by car. With the increased demand for testing, they’re paying attention location and timing for testing.
“We know that people need to have accessibility to testing that is on evening hours and weekend hours because people have jobs,” said Bond.
Cornell Scott Hill Health has extended testing hours on Thursdays, and the city has partnered with Stamford-based Sema4 for weekend testing. Bond says at least 1,000 people showed up last weekend.
“One testing site had over 500, another testing site had over 300 and another testing site over 200, so we were over 1,100 people,” said Bond.
Sema4 is contracted with the state to provide testing, sample collection and lab processing in their Branford location. One company processing COVID-19 tests from start to finish.
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“In the last two months things have gotten a little crazier for us,” said Sema4 CEO Eric Schadt. “We’re probably running three or four times now the number of samples per day per week than we were back in July and August.”
They are processing 5,000 tests a day and have a goal to ramp up to 10,000 tests. They’re working on hiring more lab technicians and working on logistics to transport more tests to the lab for processing.
“We’re running now 90% or more of the samples we take in are turned around in under 48 hours,” said Schadt.
While long drive through lines are circling parts of the state, some walk-up lines can be spotted in New Haven, and Yale New Haven Health sites are scheduling tests a week in advance. Bond says it shows how seriously people are taking COVID-19 testing, and how the city's plan to make testing available is working.
“The fact that people are going to get tested, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Bond. “It’s letting us know that people want to know their status so they can be able to protect others and their family.”