At-home rapid COVID-19 test kits will be distributed to West Hartford residents and town or school staff who have symptoms, while N95 masks will be distributed Tuesday.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford had been set to distribute 8,010 at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits last week when officials learned the state’s promised shipment had fallen through, but on Monday announced a new plan for distribution of test kits, as well as N95 masks, that the town has now received.
Test kit distribution
The town has received an allotment of 4,725 QuickVue test kits (two tests per kit), which will be distributed to residents as well as essential school and town staff who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“We want to get these to people who are symptomatic,” Town Manager Matt Hart said Monday. The town’s supply is limited, and Hart said the town wants to be sure to get the tests to those who really need them rather than holding a distribution event, like some other towns have, where the public has shown up en masse and waited for hours only to have supplies depleted.
In addition the rapid tests, which are antigen tests, are most valuable and most reliable as a tool for individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19.
At-home rapid test kits can be obtained from pharmacies as well as online – although supplies have been inconsistent – but are relatively expensive and many residents do not have the means to purchase them.
“We want to make sure we have a supply available for people who rely on our Food Pantry, on Social Services,” Hart said, as well as for individuals who with physical or financial hardship, and those who are homebound or live in senior housing and may not be able to obtain tests from other sources.
Officials said they will be allocating roughly 60% of the kits that have been received to Social Services clients and West Hartford Food Pantry recipients, as well other West Hartford residents, while the remaining kits will be provided to employees of the town’s public and private schools, daycare staff, and frontline town employees such as police, fire, and public works employees.
The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District noted that kits are meant to be used immediately and should not be stored at temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
West Hartford residents who are eligible to receive a test kit must register through an online sign-up form (click here). Those who do not have internet access can request a kit by calling 860-561-6998 to speak to the town’s helpline staff who will collect pertinent information over the phone.
Those requesting test kits will be notified with pick-up instructions, and officials said anyone who is unable to arrange for pick-up can email [email protected] to arrange for a delivery of a kit to their home address. Proof of residency will be required at time of pick-up.
The town will distribute additional test kits in the future as they become available.
Town officials also noted that the community can obtain COVID testing on a walk-up basis at a nearby state Department of Public Health Testing Site located at 1161 Albany Ave., Hartford (corner of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street). The site is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those seeking a test should bring their insurance card, and free testing is also available for those who are uninsured. Anyone with questions about the testing can call 860-757-4830.
United Way 211 also maintains a list of all of the testing sites at 211ct.org/covidtesting.
West Hartford has acquired 230,000 adult-size N95 masks and will hold an initial distribution to residents on Tuesday, Jan. 4, from 2-5 p.m., at 100 Mayflower St. (former St. Brigid School property). Each household is eligible to receive a maximum of two N95 masks.
Additional distribution events will be scheduled for those who cannot attend on Jan. 4.
In addition, the town will also make N95 masks available to businesses, senior centers, public and private schools, and daycare facilities. A supply of masks for employees can be requested via this form, and businesses will be notified when the masks are ready for pick-up. Anyone with difficulty arranging for pick-up can email [email protected].
“This mask distribution program is designed to provide assistance to facilities while they obtain a source for masks of their own,” the town said in an email, noting that masks are currently available at most pharmacies, retail stores, and online with delivery within 5 days.
Masks will be distributed by the town while supplies last, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Changes in quarantine and school policy
West Hartford Public Schools resumed in-person instruction as planned Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, following holiday break, but amid rising COVID-19 cases it was not quite business as usual.
The state Department of Public Health issued new guidelines for Pre-K through grade 12 schools on Dec. 31, 2021, taking into account the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised quarantine guidelines – reducing the time period to 5 days provided there are no symptoms or symptoms are resolving – and Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore told We-Ha.com that the new quarantine policy will be applied to teachers and staff. “But after discussing with [the] local health department, we will continue with previous guidelines for students,” Moore said.
According to Hart, town staff will be adhering to the CDC’s new quarantine guidelines.
Moore said that the district will continue to maintain its COVID dashboard, but due to the significant number of cases in the community as a whole, a nightly letter will not be sent home to families. While the new guidelines provided but DPH no longer require contact tracing, “We will continue contact tracing for now, as another mitigation strategy,” Moore said.
While winter sports seasons will continue, both Conard and Hall high schools have now implemented a limit to the number of spectators that can attend contests.
Attention winter sports fans! Effective immediately, we are limiting our home spectator policy to 4 family members per rostered athlete and 2 spectators per away athlete. This will be in place until further notice. Home games will still be streamed on https://t.co/5frzbxam18
— Conard Athletics (@CHSWHAthletics) January 3, 2022
The Town of West Hartford will not be implementing a universal indoor mask mandate but rather will maintain the mask advisory issued by the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District on Dec. 23, 2021.
“We’ve certainly given it a great deal of consideration over the past few weeks,” Hart said, and while he is not ruling out implementing a mandate at this time officials have decided to stick with the advisory. If a mask mandate were to be implemented, Hart said it would have to coordinate with the governor’s existing executive orders, and he would want to publish metrics for when the mandate should be in effect and when it could be removed.
Town officials noted that the “CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status,” and recommends wearing N95 or surgical masks indoors by everyone, regardless of vaccination status, when they are indoors near others who are not part of their household. N95 masks, as well as surgical masks, offer more protection than cloth masks.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders, which includes a mandate that those who are unvaccinated wear masks in indoor settings, remains in effect through mid February, and masks also remain mandatory for all in setting such as schools, transportation, and health care facilities.
Hart said the decision to stick with an advisory also takes into account the likelihood that COVID will be with us for some time into the future, with additional surges. “What’s the best way to respond,” he said. “The mask advisory would be a good tool.”]
“I know how desperately we all want to put COVID-19 behind us, and how disappointing it is to start 2022 like this,” Mayor Shari Cantor said in a message to the town shared via Everbridge. “I want to thank all of you, however, for your continued perseverance, and for doing your part to take care of one another. Over the past two years, you have all continuously risen to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic, and I am deeply proud of how resilient we are as a community.
“Thank you for listening. Be safe, and be well,” Cantor said.
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Applying different quarantine procedures to students vs. teachers/staff is inconsistent and bad policy. Following CDC guidance of 5 days should apply to all in the community now. Please remedy this inconsistency.