Connecticut has no immediate plans to join states around the country enacting programs offering residents free at-home COVID tests in an effort to mitigate spread of the disease, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration said Tuesday.
As states experiment with policies to stifle swells of COVID-19 cases, some have turned to providing residents with at-home tests aimed at easing the process of identifying new cases before they can spread.
Colorado, for instance, has for weeks sent free rapid tests to homes of any resident who applies for its program. Other states have tried more limited initiatives. On Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced his administration would deliver more than 2 million rapid tests to around 100 communities with high poverty levels. Also Monday, New Jersey’s Health Department announced a program to send PCR tests to residents’ homes on request. According to a Valley News report, demand for at-home tests in New Hampshire was so high, residents claimed all 800,000 free tests offered by the state within one day.
Asked Tuesday whether Connecticut would follow suit and provide some type of state-sponsored at-home testing program, Lamont said he was generally in favor of easing the process of COVID testing.
“Look I think we gotta make testing more easily and readily available at no cost,” Lamont said after a morning address to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce in Rocky Hill. “What we’re doing now at the state level, I’ll see in terms of making testing available. We have testing capability all over the state where you go in and get tested for free.”
The governor’s chief spokesman, Max Reiss, later clarified there were no current plans to launch a state-sponsored at-home testing initiative. But he said the administration had also not ruled out such a program in the future.
“Right now we’re as focused on increasing additional access to in person testing sites, building on the 23 free state sponsored sites around the state,” Reiss said.
In its availability of at-home testing options, the U.S. stands apart from some other countries. The United Kingdom, for instance, offers to deliver residents COVID tests to their doors free of charge. Americans can generally get tested at medical centers and testing sites free of charge, but they foot the bill for at-home tests, which can be expensive.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a plan to ease at-home testing, but it largely relies on reimbursements from insurance carriers rather than making the tests available free of cost. During an exchange last week with a reporter, Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki seemed incredulous at the idea of providing nationwide, free at-home testing. “Should we just send one to every American?” she asked.
The comment caught the ire of some public health experts including Yale epidemiology professor Gregg Gonsalves who, in a Twitter post, called it “terrible, flippant, wrong.”
“Rapid tests are hard to get, expensive & could be a key intervention in fighting [COVID-19]. Other countries have figured out better ways to get these tools into the hands of their citizens,” Gonsalves wrote. “Do better.”
During a Tuesday virtual press conference Dr. Ayjay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare, told reporters there already exists a “fair amount of access, on the testing side.”
“Can it be more? Probably. Could it be more convenient? Possibly. But I think where we are right now, we’re in a pretty reasonable place,” Kumar said. “It can always get better.”
Connecticut continues to report tens of thousands of new COVID tests each day. On Friday, when the state infection rate was 6.08%, the state posted nearly 54,000 new tests in a single day. On Monday, it reported about 55,000 during the intervening days when the infection rate declined to 2.21%. But even as testing and the resulting infection rates fluctuate, the number of COVID patients hospitalized in Connecticut continues to climb. On Monday that number rose to 645, more than double where it was just a month earlier.
However, Lamont was optimistic Tuesday after his speech to the chamber of commerce. He told reporters he did not think new public health restrictions would be necessary to contain the virus.
“We have all the ability to keep ourselves safe now,” he said. “We know exactly what it takes. We have plenty of vaccines, we have plenty of boosters, we have masks, we have same-day testing. We’ll have therapy, you know, within a month or two. So I have no plans to go back to mandates unless I see that our hospitals are getting overwhelmed and I don’t see that yet.”