While testing for COVID-19 has ramped up since early March — when the first positive case of the disease was reported in Connecticut — those who have taken the nasal swabs to find out if they have the coronavirus can still encounter long wait times for results.
Maura Esposito experienced a lag earlier this month when she went to MidState Medical Center in Meriden to get tested.
“I got tested on the 11th. I didn’t get my results back until the 20th,” Esposito said. She tested negative for COVID-19.
Esposito is director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers Cheshire, Wolcott and Prospect. While Esposito waited for her results, she self-quarantined — even keeping away from other family members within her own household. She retreated to an area of their house with a bathroom nearby and took a TV.
“No one was allowed to come near me,” Esposito said. Meanwhile, she had to call Hartford Healthcare, MidState’s owner, to learn her results.
Local health officials such as Esposito say such lags hamper their ability to contain the virus through contact tracing.
Quicker turnarounds would also enable local health directors to advise other local leaders — like school superintendents planning for the reopening of schools — of any coronavirus spread.
As of Friday, 711,102 tests for COVID-19 had been conducted across Connecticut, with 48,776 positive cases confirmed, according to the state Department of Public Health. Out of 25,233 recently-completed tests, 544, or just over 2 percent, were confirmed positive, according to DPH figures.
Getting the nasal swab, though uncomfortable for some, is relatively quick and not all that painful, Esposito said.
Testing site operators do advise residents to book appointments ahead of time, and if possible, to bring notes from their physicians. Not having a doctor’s note does not mean that you will be denied testing.
Josh Geballe serves as chief operating officer in Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and is spearheading the state’s COVID-19 response.
Geballe acknowledged the lags for out-of-state laboratory results. But he noted, for the labs with which Connecticut contracts, turnaround times have been much quicker: within 48 hours. The state has been monitoring those turnaround times.
“The labs that the state has on contract continue to perform very well,” Geballe said. Those labs include Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Yale New Haven Hospital, Genesis Diagnotics in Montville and Sema4 in Stamford.
Meanwhile national labs, like Quest Diagnostics, have backlogs in large part because they have prioritized other regions of the U.S. that are experiencing coronavirus spikes. In Connecticut, the virus appeared to have peaked in late April — when more than 1,900 patients were hospitalized. As of Friday, 71 patients were hospitalized.
Statewide, there are 169 sites where residents can have their nasal samples collected for testing. Seven of those sites are in the Meriden area. Whether those samples are tested at in-state laboratories or tested out-of-state varies.
Three sites are in Meriden, two in Southington and two in Cheshire.
No locations for sample collection are listed in Wallingford.
Stephen Civitelli, Wallingford’s health director who also serves as president of the statewide Connecticut Association of Health Directors, attributed the local lags in test results to increased demands in other parts of the country where cases continue to climb.
“There is still a limited amount testing available from our national labs,” Civitelli said.
Dr. James Cardon, executive vice president and chief clinical integration officer for Hartford HealthCare, explained in a written statement that, because of the high demand for tests, results are turned around based on priority.
Overall, statewide reports show COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continually declining in Connecticut. Still, Civitelli urged residents to continue to follow health recommendations.
“I think if we remain vigilant, if we continue working on protocols that we have, keep wearing our masks, and keep cleaning to the best of our ability, hopefully we can limit it,” Civitelli said. “And do everything that we can to try to control it, short of a pharmaceutical intervention.”
In the meantime, he urges everyone to adhere to existing public health guidelines.
“We can’t take our eye off this. We have to stay on it, to make sure it doesn’t become what it was back in March and April, to the best that we can,” Civitelli said.