The News-Times

Demand rising as CT seeks to replace COVID testing firm

- By Adam Hushin and Nicholas Rondinone

With a greater urgency for testing and surveillan­ce, the state is grappling with the impending loss of COVID testing partner Sema4, a Stamford-based lab linked to Gov. Ned Lamont’s wife, that plans to cease its role in the effort by next month.

The omicron variant, still a bit enigmatic to leading health profession­als, may end up the dominant strain in Connecticu­t within weeks. Since it was first classified by the World Health Organizati­on as a variant of concern late last month, pressure has been put on testing and surveillan­ce to track its spread.

Compoundin­g the demand for increased testing is the busy holiday season that comes amid a surge in cases, thus far still largely linked to the delta variant, as people contemplat­e how to see family and friends.

“We’re talking to our hospital partners; we’re talking to everybody else that’s providing the testing,” Lamont said. “We’re going to provide more testing capacity for the state. Testing is one of the ways we’re going to get through COVID.”

Lamont on Monday said he has heard recent concerns over testing, but pointed out there are 400 sites across Connecticu­t and hours will be expanded at state-sponsored locations.

The number of daily tests has fluctuated in recent weeks, state data shows, from lows in the tens of thousands to as high as about 53,000. This time last year, when Connecticu­t was similarly experienci­ng a surge in COVID-19 cases, the daily tests range from the low 20,000s to a high of more than 66,000.

“I think, give us a couple weeks, but we are expanding testing every day to make that more available,” Lamont said.

Lamont said they also planned to pause some of the vaccine mandates that require those who opt-out to get tested to open up more appointmen­ts.

But the loss of Sema4, one of four companies hired in July by the state Department of Public Health to manage 23 testing sites across the state, could stress the situation.

On Friday, Lamont called Sema4’s plans a loss for the state.

“I mean they were a great testing partner for Connecticu­t and beyond,” Lamont said.

Sema4 notified the DPH on Wednesday of its plans to end its contract with the state as the company exits the testing industry by mid-January, and returns to its core business — genomic testing.

The company’s contracts with the state had come under scrutiny since Annie Lamont’s firm, Oak HC/FT, is an investor in Sema4, which has received millions of dollars from the state to perform COVID testing.

Lamont’s spokespers­on Max Reiss said Friday that the administra­tion “had zero input into Sema4’s decision to stop its COVID testing operation.”

Lamont said the state is working with health partners and others to make up for this eventual loss in testing capacity.

Lamont emphasized the importance for testing as the state experience­s a spike in infections, including confirmed cases of the omicron variant.

“We’re going to have to make up that loss because more testing capacity is more important. More people are getting tested than ever before, double where we were just in the last few weeks,” Lamont said.

While demand for tests is high, they are still available through a number of providers, experts said.

“We have the ability to test,” said Dr. Ulyesses Wu, chief epidemiolo­gist at Hartford HealthCare, “Because of the demand, it’s like ordering a cabbage patch kid . ... They’re out there.”

But Wu stressed the need for availabili­ty of home test kits, which have become increasing­ly popular in recent months.

“The wait time for testing is longer. What we need is to have more availabili­ty of at-home testing, which is much harder,” Wu said.

“I’m not exactly sure why Europe can do it, and we can’t,” he added.

Art Caplan, founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York

University’s Grossman School of Medicine and a Ridgefield resident, was more critical of the testing situation in Connecticu­t and elsewhere, pointing out situations where there have been long lines of people waiting to get screened.

“Testing is disgracefu­l in Connecticu­t and around the country . ... Home tests are cheap — the state should be buying them,” Caplan said.

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