HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — An increase in demand for coronavirus testing in advance of Thanksgiving has led to hours-long lines across Connecticut as providers scramble to add capacity and hire new workers.
That comes despite the recent addition of 60 new testing sites in the past few weeks, bringing the total to 260 sites across the state.
“We’re doing 20 times more testing than we were just a few months ago,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.
Leslie Gianelli, a spokesperson for Community Health Center, Inc. which operates 15 testing sites across the state, said the wait time at those facilities on Thursday was over two hours.
Similar waits were being reported by Hartford HealthCare at its eight sites.
A total of 145 towns and cities in Connecticut are now in the Red Alert Level – the highest alert level on the state's weekly COVID-19 map.
— Governor Ned Lamont (@GovNedLamont) November 19, 2020
The governor’s office said it is working with all its testing partners to increase staff, open more testing lanes at existing facilities and extend operating hours.
Gianelli said they are currently trying to hire about 100 additional workers, from administrative support to nurses who can administer the tests.
Capt. Dave Pytlik, a spokesperson for the Connecticut National Guard, said they have deployed about 50 Guard soldiers and airmen to help at testing sites.
“Sometimes that’s administrative support, sometimes that’s processing the samples, sometimes that’s actually doing the swabs,” he said.
Hartford HealthCare said it is testing between 30,000 and 40,000 this week. It plans to open a new drive-thru center at Bradley International Airport on Monday and recently moved centers in Hartford to the convention center and in Norwich to Dodd Stadium to increase testing capacity.
“We certainly don’t see any decrease in the testing that we are going to need,” said Dr. James Cardon, who runs Hartford HealthCare’s testing program. “We appreciate everybody’s patience, but we understand this is difficult. But we have a singular focus on trying to improve so that people aren’t disrupted as much as they are currently.”
He said that system is giving testing priority during the first few hours each day those who are scheduled to undergo medical procedures.
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Thursday’s report from Lamont’s office showed 36,339 tests conducted, with 2,353 positive tests reported.
Connecticut’s seven-day rolling average positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks from 3.75% on Nov. 4 to 5.55% on Wednesday.
State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Connecticut the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said he and other state medical experts expect the current surge in coronavirus cases to peak in late December.
“In terms of hospitalizations, we will be just below what we were (in the spring),” he said. “We will be reaching around 1,500 to 1,600 patients at some point in the state of Connecticut.”
CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In other coronavirus related news:
Lamont said he is starting a “Connecticut Health Corps,” where people can volunteer to help during the pandemic.
His office is creating a website that will recruit emergency apprentice teachers in districts experiencing staffing shortages, contact tracers for the state, workers at testing sites and for other jobs.
Lamont appealed specifically to college students, many of whom are coming home for the remainder of their fall semesters and holiday breaks.
“We have a bit of a fire on our hands and the more people we have in the bucket brigade, the safer it is for each and every one of you,” he said.
Lamont announced he is banning all youth sports in the state until at least Jan. 19.
That coincides with the date set earlier this week by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for the start of the high school winter sports season.
The governor had previously allowed moderate risk youth sports such as hockey and basketball to continue if the kids involved wore masks while playing.
Lamont said the move, which goes into effect on Monday, comes after contact tracing linked outbreaks among sports teams to 17 school closures and the quarantining of 235 teachers.
“This is the best way we can keep your schools open a little bit longer,” he said.
Lawrence + Memorial Hospital has been fined $15,422 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for problems it found after the coronavirus-related death of a nurse’s aid.
Elva Graveline died on May 19 of complications from COVID-19.
OSHA said it found violations including a failure by the hospital to establish and implement a written respiratory protection program for workers.
Fiona Phelan, a spokesperson for the New London hospital, said the OSHA report does not indicate there was any lack of appropriate personal protective equipment for staff and the hospital takes issue with being cited for not having a written policy in May.
“Given the unprecedented nature of the virus, we are unaware of any hospitals that carried such protocols at the onset of this pandemic,” she said in a statement. “Our top priority is to protect our patients and staff and as such, our protocols have always followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as that of the experts within our Health System.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)