After COVID test kit delays, Danbury area leaders pivot
Danbury area residents woke up to disappointing news Thursday after the state informed local leaders of the indefinite delay of 500,000 at-home COVID-19 test kits promised earlier this week.
And towns quickly began to pivot from their distribution plans. They canceled drivethrus, told local volunteers to stand by, and have asked anxious residents for patience.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont sent mayors and first selectmen across Connecticut scrambling to pull together mass distribution plans for thousands of at-home kits, only to inform them Wednesday night that the kits would not be arriving on time.
The state initially cited supply chain delays, before clarifying that the agreement with their supplier had actually fallen through during a press briefing Thursday night.
Lamont said the state was still working to deliver tests to municipalities, but added that in hindsight, they should have initially told municipalities “off record” about the purchase order.
“I think we got a little ahead of ourselves, to tell you the truth,” he said.
Leaders were only told on a
call Wednesday night that the kits, which were supposed to be loaded onto an airplane headed for Connecticut last night, were still sitting in Los Angeles. This news was followed up by what one first selectman characterized as a “vague” 8 a.m. email Thursday saying the kits still had not shipped.
Despite the delay, Danbury officials said they’re still ready to hand out kits at Western Connecticut State University’s Westside campus as soon as they arrive. The city saw 558 cases just last week, according to state data.
“We’re ready once the product comes,” said Matthew Cassavechia, emergency management director. “We have a team ready to go get the product and be able to distribute it very quickly and in a safe, efficient manner.”
Pivoting after an indefinite delay
Some leaders were more frustrated by the delayed testing announcement than others.
New Milford has decided to hold off on new plans until the tests are actually loaded into trucks and headed for town. Initially, the town planned to begin a drive-thru distribution on Thursday. The town had already filled up every time slot a couple hours after posting it online. On Wednesday night, Mayor Pete Bass and Health Director Lisa Morrissey began sending out emails letting residents know their appointments have been canceled for now.
“We’re going to be reassessing it as soon as we make sure we actually have those test kits in our hands,” Mayor Pete Bass said. “I just kind of wish that they didn’t rush this.”
Bass added that he wished the state had only alerted leaders once the kits were ready and waiting at Bradley Airport.
“A lot of the municipalities really scaled up and were working hard because they wanted us to get them out before New Years,” he said.
Brookfield First Selectman Tara Carr echoed Bass’s frustration with regards to the time and effort that went into plans that are now being changed and altered.
“It’s been tough because it’s a holiday and we’re asking for volunteers,” she explained.
Brookfield hit a COVID case rate of 99.7 cases per 100,000 residents Thursday— the second highest case rate in the Danbury area behind Ridgefield.
Carr said it was unfortunate that there wouldn’t be enough test kits to equitably distribute them to her residents once they arrive. Brookfield is expected to get 2,250 kits with two tests per kit.
“In a town of 17,500 people, it’s not even scraping the surface,” she said the town’s allotment.
Several residents have called the first selectman saying they’re homebound and unable to come to the high school to pick up a kit when they are distributed, which Carr said “pulled at her heartstrings.”
In Bethel, First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker waited to announce final plans this week after a staff member with connections to the Connecticut National Guard informed him the kits did not appear to be en route yet.
“I held off on my announcement and I’m glad I did,” Knickerbocker said Thursday, as other towns were emailing residents and posting announcements about distribution cancelations.
Praise amid delays
Despite the disappointing delays, Knickerbocker praised the governor’s consistent communication throughout the pandemic.
Danbury Mayor Dean Esposito said he appreciates the state’s efforts to get the kits.
“We don't want to condemn the state,” he said. “The efforts of the state have been very positive in my opinion. They’re trying to do everything possible to move forward with providing the test kits and, unfortunately, logistics is falling into place where it's not getting here as expected.”
Julia Pemberton, Redding’s first selectman, wants to get the kits distributed before school starts back up next week. Since the estimated arrival update was vague on Thursday morning, she said she would likely go ahead and cancel plans for a New Year’s Eve distribution.
“If the kits do come in, we will scramble to put together a distribution, perhaps as early as this weekend,” she added. “It was a valiant effort to get us those kits within 48 hours, and if we have to wait another 48 hours, it’s another 48 hours.”
Pemberton said she was still “enthusiastic” about the plan.
“As much as I’m disappointed we can’t hand them out tomorrow, I know it won’t be much longer than that.”