Gov. Ned Lamont has dedicated considerable time in recent weeks to highlighting the additional COVID-19 testing that his administration has helped make a reality.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Lamont said last week as he helped announce new mobile testing in underserved minority communities. Nearly 2 weeks earlier the leaders of the testing company Quest Diagnostics – a Connecticut resident – and Hartford HealthCare joined the governor during his daily press briefing to announce they also are increasing their testing capacity.
The state has yet to see a sustained, noticeable surge in testing, however.
Testing data released each day by the Connecticut Department of Public Health shows the state received 2,837 test results Monday – roughly the same amount received on March 30, the first day the state began publicizing how many residents were being tested. Over the last 2 weeks, the state has averaged about 2,800 test results being reported each day.
Asked Monday whether testing capacity has increased, the governor said the trend, “obviously reflects a little bit of lumpiness, but I think you will see those consistently go up over the course of the next two weeks.”
Lamont has repeatedly stressed that the state must significantly increase testing before his administration can begin reopening schools and non-essential businesses. The governor has not, however, said how much testing will be necessary to begin reopening the state on May 20, the day his last closure order expires.
“I’m looking at making sure we have the testing capacity in place so we can see flare ups as they come over the radar screen,” he said Monday during his daily press briefing.
Lamont is aiming for May 20 to have the adequate testing in place, however, and said he has been reaching out to all the major private testing companies. That includes Thermo Fisher Scientific, where the governor’s chief operating officer used to work.
“We haven’t sat around waiting for the federal government on this,” he said. “I’m using every relationship I can to get to the front of the line here, and we have strong assurances from partners like Thermo that we’re going to have the testing [materials] we need to make sure that we can ramp up our testing in a way that gives you security.”
Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said he thinks Connecticut may soon remove obstacles to increased testing because the state is likely to receive a shipment of key supplies used in the tests.
“So we’re very optimistic that in the coming weeks, we’ll see significant increase in our testing capacity,” he said.
Connecticut testing capacity did see an initial surge in the first two weeks after March 10, when the governor declared a public health emergency. When COVID touched down in the state, just 20 people a day were being tested. But the growth has been slow since then.
Experts say the state has a long way to go before it is adequately testing people.
Harvard’s Global Health Institute reported last week that Connecticut is one of 10 states that needs to conduct at least 10,000 more COVID tests each day before it is safe to begin reopening the economy and relaxing social distancing precautions meant to tame the spread of the virus.
That falls in line with what Dr. Howard Forman, director of the health care management program at Yale School of Public Health, has been saying is needed in Connecticut since the onset of the pandemic.
By his calculations, the state should be testing at least 100,000 people each week. The last full week of data shows that Connecticut tested 20,000 people.
“We are behind,” Forman said.
He said the best indictor of whether the state is testing sufficiently is the share of tests coming back positive for the novel coronavirus. He said the state should be aiming for about a 10% positive rate.
Monday’s data showed 31% of the tests were positive for COVID-19. On May 2, the rate was 23%
“That’s pretty horrible,” Forman said. He pointed out that New York’s rates the last couple days have been between 12% and 14%.
The state ranks 13th in the nation for the number of tests it has conducted on a per-capita basis, despite having the fifth-highest per-capita rate of residents testing positive for the virus, an analysis of testing data from the Covid Tracking Project and state population data from the Census show.
What Connecticut’s numbers show is that the state is still under testing, Forman said.
“We all know, those of us who are working in emergency rooms and hospitals, and health care providers, that there is still a limitation in access,” said Forman, a practicing clinician in the Yale New Haven Hospital Emergency Room who has also has a family member who struggled to get tested. “We are really not testing all the people we should be right now. There are still a lot of people I know who have struggled to get testing.”