BRISTOL, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that he’s canceling out-of-state travel for state employees and asked that any meetings with out-of-state contractors be conducted by teleconference or online in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
That’s just one of the precautions announced during a Monday morning briefing at Bristol Hospital following the state’s first positive case of COVID-19, which is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019. Thus far 47 Connecticut residents have been tested and only one resident has tested positive. Two Connecticut hospital employees who live in New York had also tested positive before the first resident to become a confirmed case.
Lamont said Monday that he has asked state agency chiefs to provide him with a list of any meetings or conferences with more than 100 people scheduled to attend between now and April 30. He said the administration will evaluate the events to see whether they should be postponed or be conducted via teleconference.
Administrators at the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State University System will have to make their own decisions about how they handle intercollegiate sports, Lamont said.
“UConn was advised that the university could determine essential versus non-essential travel,” said Patrick McKenna, a spokesman for the university reached by telephone after the briefing. “UConn teams will travel to games as planned. Only essential employees will accompany them.”
CSUS President Mark Ojakian said that all “institutionally-supported travel, including athletics, would require approval from the campus leader in consultation with the CSCU chief of staff.”
And as a result of the case associated with an employee who works at Danbury and Norwalk hospitals, Western Connecticut State University has decided to cancel “all out-of-state athletic, academic, and student club travel at least through Spring Break.”
The measures may sound extreme, but until the scientific community knows more about the virus and creates a vaccine, state leaders are operating out of an abundance of caution.
“We’re taking aggressive action now to get out in front of this to make sure we delay the spread,” Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe said.
Connecticut also received a second testing kit Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each “kit” contains enough materials to test 600 individuals.
“We cannot know the rate or the root of infection without prompt and thorough testing,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was in Bristol for Monday’s briefing.
Blumenthal also was critical of the federal government’s response to the virus thus far.
“What we’ve seen at the federal level is too much low-balling and bungling,” Blumenthal said.
Last week, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law a $8.3 billion legislative package to fund the coronavirus response, including testing, treatment, and vaccine development. An estimated $7 million of that is expected to directly benefit Connecticut.
Connecticut has had only one lab equipped to test for the virus until now, but that is expected to change today.
Of the 194 people who have arrived in Connecticut from affected countries such as China or Italy, 154 were advised by health officials to stay home for 14 days and self-monitor for symptoms of the virus, Department of Public Health Epidemiologist Matthew Cartter said Friday. However, he emphasized that most of that initial 154 were clear of that monitoring period without having reported symptoms.
Cartter estimated that the two staffers at the Rocky Hill lab are capable of testing only 15 to 20 specimens per day. With two specimen tests needed per individual – a throat swab and a nasal swab – the state lab can only test swabs from 10 or fewer individuals per shift.
“Testing capacity will be expanding greatly soon with the help from other labs in the private sector,” Cartter said, adding that “alternate” testing sites are crucial to ensuring that Connecticut’s health system does not get overwhelmed by an influx of cases if the virus continues to spread.
Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are expected to start testing today. The samples taken at local hospitals will be sent to the two commercial labs for testing, if the patients providing the samples are not critically ill, Geballe said.
He said he expects the testing volume to ramp up rapidly at this point.
Whether an individual will be tested for coronavirus will be determined “on a case-by-case basis,” Lamont said.
The question of costs related to the test has come up repeatedly, but no one has been able to provide a specific answer thus far.
“The major health insurance providers have waived the co-pay, waived the deductible,” Lamont said Monday.
Bloomfield-based Cigna has waived fees associated with coronavirus testing for all of its plans, including Medicare Advantage and individual and family plans.
“We will do everything we can to help contain this virus, remove barriers to testing and treatment, especially for seniors and people who are chronically ill, and give peace of mind to those we serve,” Cigna Chief Executive David M. Cordani said in a March 5 press release.
UnitedHealthcare also waived member costs for approved diagnostic testing for COVID-19 for all commercially insured and Medicaid and Medicare members who may be affected by COVID-19.
On its website, Anthem says a coronavirus test “shouldn’t cost you anything if you receive a test from the Centers for Disease Control or if you have a fully insured, Medicare or Medicaid plan.”
Aetna said it “will waive co-pays for all diagnostic testing related to COVID-19.”
Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais is expected to make an announcement later Monday about whether state-regulated insurance plans sold both on and off the exchange will waive fees associated with testing.
The states like Washington are taking action amid concerns that consumers, even those with insurance, might avoid getting tested or treated because they would face large out-of-pocket costs.
Insurance regulators officials in California, New York, Vermont, and Maryland have ordered insurance companies not to charge residents who get tested.