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Town of West Hartford to Distribute COVID-19 Rapid Test Kits Friday

iHealth COVID-19 test kits are being provided by the State of Connecticut. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Town of West Hartford residents will be given the opportunity to obtain iHealth COVID-19 tests at two drive-up locations on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

By Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford is receiving 8,010 iHealth COVID-19 rapid test kits from the state through an initiative announced by Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday, and will be distributing them Friday – New Year’s Eve – at two different locations, officials said Tuesday.

The state has asked municipalities to distribute the self-tests as quickly as possible through their emergency management teams. “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,” Lamont said Monday.

“It’s wonderful that the state is doing this,” Fire Chief Greg Priest, who is also director of the town’s Office of Emergency Management, told We-Ha.com on Tuesday, but he cautioned that the supply of tests is limited and the goal is to be as strategic with the distribution as possible to maximize the effectiveness of using the rapid tests.

“We want to get these into the hands of people who may be symptomatic,” Priest said, but may not readily have access to other testing options. Use of the tests are recommended for those who have interacted with or are planning to interact with people this week whose COVID status is unknown, to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant.

Test kits – each of which includes two tests – will be distributed to residents only, at either Conard High School or King Philip Middle School, on Friday, Dec. 31, from 10-2 p.m. – or until the supply runs out.

Bob McCue, deputy director of the town’s Office of Emergency Management, said the CERT team members will be volunteering at the distribution sites, which are drive-up only. Those who would like to receive tests must provide proof of residency in West Hartford, and will be given one test kit per household resident, for a maximum of four.

The tests are being distributed to individual residents, not businesses.

“We know that this is the first traunch of kits,” Priest said of the 500,000 the state is distributing to municipalities this week based on population. The state has procured 3 million kits and will also be distributing them to schools beginning in January.

West Hartford’s 8,010 kits represent roughly 12% of the town’s population.

The goal of the distribution is to “get the tests into the hands of as many people as possible who need them with the goal of containing the spread,” Priest said.

Town Manager Matt Hart said because only a certain number of tests are being provided, people need to be patient and understanding about the fact that the town only has a limited supply at this time.

Other than residency, the town is not making any other eligibility determinations at the distribution point. “We want to reduce the infection rate and encourage people to get tested,” Hart said.

“I want to thank the state for this current distribution ahead of the New Year’s holiday,” Mayor Shari Cantor told We-Ha.com. “We continue to encourage all of our residents to test when possible ahead of gathering with friends and family, and please stay home if you don’t feel well. Vaccinations, testing and masking are essential to getting through this surge,” she said. 

“This has been a long road and we will get through this together,” Cantor said.

Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, said she still recommends PCR tests for those who have symptoms, and PCR tests are also required in certain situations such are prior to surgery or other medical procedures, and by employees who are permitted to use testing as part of an employer’s vaccination program.

“But these tests are still recommended as an option for people to screen themselves,” Krauss said, such as before going to a New Year’s Eve gathering. “If you have the sniffles, and there’s no place to test,” she said, the antigen self-test can be an important tool, and results are available in 15 minutes.

Krauss said the symptoms from the Omicron variant of the disease – which is now the prevalent strain – are presenting a bit differently than other strains. Many are experiencing only a “scratchy throat and stuffy, runny nose,” and could easily mistake the symptoms for allergies. “Don’t let your guard down,” she said.

If the test returns a positive result, you should stay home, contact your primary care physician, and stay away from other members of your household to the extent possible. New guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday require quarantine for five days. After that point if there are no symptoms or any previous symptoms are resolving, individuals are able to leave quarantine but should wear a mask around any other people for another five days.

Krauss said the requirement for returning to school or daycare is still a 10-day quarantine.

There is no need to re-test with a PCR test if a rapid antigen test is positive, Krauss said. The Health District has been fielding calls from residents who do test positive regarding when additional family members should be tested. They are also communicating with school nurses when necessary.

The positivity results being released by the state do not indicate the results of the self-tests at this point, she said.

Friday’s distribution will be at Conard High School (110 Beechwood Road) and King Philip Middle School (100 King Philip Drive). Individuals must remain in their cars and wear masks, McCue said.

The Conard High School parking lot must be accessed with a right turn from Beechwood Road in order to keep traffic moving properly, McCue said.

The King Philip Middle School distribution site will be accessed from King Philip Drive at the main entrance to the school, with only a right turn permitted. Parking in the lot will be prohibited.

Heavy traffic is expected and those who are not picking up test kits may want to avoid the both areas during the distribution time, McCue added.

Each iHealth test kit has detailed instruction, in both English and Spanish, Krauss said. She said those using the tests – which use an anterior nasal swap method – not a deep nasal swab – to wash their hands carefully.

Krauss said that all self-test kits have specific storage requirements, and she urged people not to leave them in their cars if it’s below 35 degrees outside.

“There are three simple and effective interventions to fight off the current surge of COVID-19 from the Omicron variant – vaccination, masking, and testing,” Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said in a news release Monday. “We will be distributing two of these – masks and tests – so that our communities can work as quickly as possible to get past this surge. I strongly encourage people to limit gathering sizes during this holiday week. Because of the scarcity of these kits, I am asking the residents of our state to please take only the kits that you need for your immediate family so that we can distribute as many as possible to help flatten the Omicron curve. Per the CDC recommendations, if your self-test yields a positive result, please stay home or isolate for 10 days and wear a mask. There is no need to obtain a follow up PCR test.”

According to Priest, the town’s Department of Social Services is also working to identify some specific populations where the rapid tests should be deployed and will reserve some test kits for residents to be handed out at weekly food distribution, but Friday’s drive-up event is in response to the state’s goal of getting the initial supply handed out as quickly as possible.

The state has also proceeded 6 million N95 masks, and distribution of those will begin in January and continue throughout the school year as supplies last, town officials said.

“Given the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant, it is most important to wear any mask both in public spaces and when interacting in close contact with individuals outside of your household, but an N95 mask will provide better protection,” Juthani said. “We are distributing enough N95 masks for any Connecticut resident that would like one.”

“Residents who have not been vaccinated should get their COVID-19 vaccine now and can do so by visiting ct.gov/covidvaccine,” said Juthani “For all vaccinated people 16 and older that are eligible for a booster, please get one as soon as possible. For all school-age children 5 and older that are not vaccinated yet, please use this school break to get vaccinated. Vaccination saves lives and keeps people who get COVID out of the hospital.”

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