In Newington and New Britain, lines of cars funneled out of local testing sites and onto city streets Wednesday, where people waited for three hours or more to get tested for the coronavirus.
“I’ve been up since 6 in the morning trying to get a test with my girlfriend. We drove out to a place in Wethersfield for rapid testing, but they had already hit their capacity,” said Brandon Gadomski of New Britain.
Gadomski said he visited four different testing sites before he found one in New Britain still taking patients. He was still in line at 1 p.m. with 15- 20 cars ahead of him.
“We haven’t been able to get in touch with any physical person at all,” he said, frustrated.
Marlene Soto said she drives to the New Britain Community Health Center every week to get tested.
“I work with manufacturing and I have a lot of people that I come across so I rather be safe than sorry and I want to know,” she explained.
Wednesday’s wait was the longest she’d experienced so far.
“I’m seeing as the weeks go on and more testing it’s getting longer, the wait,” said Soto.
While the wait for those without an appointment reached several hours, those trying to make one were told they’d have to wait days.
“The whole idea is to test people rapidly at the time when they’re getting onset of symptoms, so that they know that they have COVID, so they can stay home,” explained Dr. Albert Ko of the Yale School of Medicine. “If it’s taking two, three, four days to get an appointment that defeats the purpose of testing in terms of reducing the risk of transmission.”
Hartford HealthCare’s website has showed two-hour waits at nearly all eight of its testing sites for several days. Its CEO said they’ve completed 500,000 tests since March-a quarter of those in the last month.
“Today there is unprecedented demand for testing,” said Jeffery Flaks, Hartford HealthCare CEO.
Josh Geballe, who helps lead Connecticut’s pandemic response, said working with its partners, the state’s increased the number of testing sites by 33% in the last two weeks. He said that they’re also in talks with the state’s largest cities to add more testing sites with large capacities.
“To continue to expand their hours of operation, add more lanes, add more staff, add advanced cheduling capabilities where it may not exist, deploy the national guard resources to help where there may be some staffing shortages, so we’re working very hard to address those lines,” Geballe explained.
Despite the long waits, Geballe said his team was not caught off guard by the surge in wait times at testing sites.
“As we know, and can see from these lines, we need to do more,” he added.
“We are expanding hours of testing across the state, we have five mobile testing centers that go out to communities are most vulnerable communities across Connecticut from homeless shelters to prisons to community centers to churches each and every day across Connecticut,” said Dr. Jim Cardon who leads Hartford HealthCare’s Covid testing program.
However, the logistics of adding sites, particularly having the staff to hire them is a big concern according to Ko. He pointed out that nurses are being taken away from caring for patients to perform COVID-19 tests, as COVID-related hospitalizations surge.
“Our hospitals are feeling the stress,” Ko said. “These patients require a lot of attention and that’s a burden on the health care system.”
Both Hartford HealthCare and Community Health Centers, Inc. said they are hiring more people to staff these testing sites.
“We’d like to hire at least 50 and hopefully closer to 100,” said Leslie Gianelli, vice president of communications for Community Health Center, Inc. “We’ve been adding and expanding consistently almost on a daily basis.”
Connecticut is now on a collision course of COVID-19 case increases and more demand for testing cause some sites to close hours early to accommodate those still in line.
“This has been discussed, prepared for, it’s just there’s an unprecedented demand and how would we have ever been able to anticipate this,” said Gianelli.
COVID-19 Testing Jumps Ahead of Thanksgiving
Covid testing appears to be a key factor in people’s Thanksgiving Day plans. Many are getting tested before breaking bread with family or friends.
“Next week is Thanksgiving and we have my grandparents coming over so we want to make sure that everyone’s OK,” said Gadomski.
That’s part of the reason health experts and state officials say local testing sites continue to be inundated with hours-long lines.
However, one test may not be enough.
While a negative COVID-19 test may give you the peace of mind to keep your Thanksgiving plans, Ko cautioned that you could still get the virus and give it to your loved ones.
“A negative test is not a “get out of jail free” card,” he said. “That doesn’t tell you that you may not become positive in the subsequent days.”
He said even if your test comes back negative and you must get tested again if you start showing symptoms which can take up to 14 days after exposure.
“A test gives us reassurance, a negative test, that we’re not infectious at the moment but that doesn’t replace the need to really go into quarantine and isolation especially when we’re in this surge across the country,” Ko explained, adding that’s especially true for college students coming back from campus and anyone who’s traveled from other parts of the country.