Governor Ned Lamont was confronted with yet another crisis in the nearly two-year-old pandemic as the number of coronavirus cases increased, the number of hospitalizations increased, and Connecticut residents had to wait almost four hours for a coronavirus test.
After just a few days, the governor was scrambling to locate COVID-19 tests that could be completed at home. It had taken the Lamont administration nearly two years of haggling for masks, surgical gloves, and other personal protective equipment before they found a reliable supplier from throughout the pandemic.
Connecticut’s top advisers came up with an interim solution on Monday afternoon: The state would use $18.5 million in federal funds to buy 3,000,000 at-home rapid covid tests and 6,000,000 N95 face masks, with plans to begin distributing the tests on Thursday.
“The demand for tests has outpaced the supply of testing available through our statewide network of about 400 sites,” Lamont said Monday. “The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is likely to be a period of high transmission, and we have to get 2022 off to a good start by helping residents identify COVID-19 quickly and take those steps to isolate appropriately to curb any further spread.”
Testing, immunization, and masking are all crucial in combating the “current surge of COVID-19 from the omicron variant,” according to state Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani.
“We will be distributing two of these — masks and tests — so that our communities can work as quickly as possible to get past this surge,” she said. “Because of the scarcity of these kits, I am asking the residents of our state to please take only the kits that you need for your immediate family so that we can distribute as many as possible to help flatten the omicron curve.”
Connecticut National Guard men arrived at Bradley International Airport on Wednesday afternoon to await the arrival of boxes of testing from Sunnyvale, California.
During Thursday’s press conference, the California tests never came, creating a PR disaster. Over the course of the next several days, the Lamont team was able to track down a new supplier and ship over 400,000 samples to Connecticut. A new warning that the pandemic threat is far from finished came with the California shipping debacle, which deceived dozens of governments.
Planes were waiting and ready
Lamont’s detractors pounced on the California shipment breakdown at a time when the state was struggling to acquire replacement tests, despite the fact the vast majority of the state was seeking to get their hands on a COVID-19 exam.
A state attorney general probe was requested by Vincent Candelora, House Republican leader of North Branford, in order to warn the future contractors against defrauding the state on significant contracts.
“It’s a huge embarrassment. It was the greatest hoax of 2021,” Candelora said. “This needs to be investigated. This is a huge violation of public trust. … We were being told there were pictures taken of these products being loaded onto the plane. That’s pretty significant and outrageous — and the state of Connecticut should be looking into this. No business should be misleading the state of Connecticut.”
It became more important for senior Lamont officials to locate the tests as the shipment unraveled, especially because towns throughout the state were planning the widespread distribution of the free exams beginning Thursday.
Juthani was astonished when she learned that the test kits had not arrived, despite several conflicting explanations.
“First, we were told the product was in Memphis,” Juthani said. “Then we were told the product was coming from California. … Now, you’re telling us you’re sending it to us from California and not trucks from Memphis. Now, we’re told the trucks couldn’t be loaded overnight, and so it has to be done in the morning. And then the flights. And then after all that … to come back with it’s not just a delay, it’s not coming. It was mind-blowing in some ways because we had obviously shared a lot of information with people, and a lot of municipalities made plans.”
She added, “I was told the planes were waiting and ready. When you hear that level of detail of a status update and then to find out that we’re not getting them at all was really mind-blowing. I really have no other term to say.”
As a second difficulty, the announcement to towns and cities was made even though state officials had a high degree of confidence in the contractor who had previously managed millions of U.S dollars in state contracts.
“When somebody who you have a long track record within the state and is a local member of the community when somebody like that tells you something, you’re more likely to believe it because you know that person has come through for you before,” Juthani said. “If it was a random person, you might have less faith that was true. That’s why it was even more mind-blowing to us that were involved.”