Lamont: Shipment of 500K tests isn’t coming
A plan to get 500,000 at-home COVID-19 tests kits to state residents before New Year’s Eve was derailed after Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged an issue with the deal made to purchase the kits from a California company.
The state had promised the tests to towns and cities for distribution to residents as early as Wednesday, but the time table was pushed back to Thursday and then left unclear.
When asked, Lamont said Thursday: “That particular shipment is not on its way. Other shipments I believe will be on their way, subject to enormous caveats ...
I’d like to say we are going to have more testing coming in the next 72 hours.”
The message from the governor ends about two days of confusion over when the tests would arrive and be ready for distribution to residents. The governor’s office provided few details about the situation throughout the day Thursday until the governor addressed the media just after 5 p.m.
The state’s test plan fell apart on a day when the COVID-19 positivity rate reached 20 percent an hospitalizations jumped by 38 for a total of 1,151, about 115 fewer than a peak last winter.
“We had a deal to get those rapid tests. We are not going to get them on the schedule we wanted. There were some severe transportation and logistics issues,” Lamont said Thursday evening. “We have alternative places that are going to start delivering rapid tests as soon as this weekend. We are going to make up for that shortfall fast.”
Earlier this week, Lamont announced that the state had agreed to purchase 1.5 million at-home COVID tests from iHealth, a California-based company, for roughly $18.5 million in federal funds.
Department of Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani told reporters: “We had a contract, we issued a purchase order off the contract. We were given pictures and confirmation that the product was being loaded and on the way. Those were misrepresented to us.”
When asked if the deal fell apart, Lamont said: “I think there was a lot of competing folks that wanted those tests and it was the same thing we had a year and a half ago that we had with masks.”
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, RNorth Branford, said he was told by Lamont on Thursday that another buyer had purchased the kits from under the state for more money.
“Bottom line is, I don’t know who did what or when, but our cities and towns were put out,” Candelora said. “This has caused a lot of confusion and I think we need to hit a reset button, and I think that this administration needs to start with some long-term planning, and as I’ve said before, stop worrying about the press conferences.”
Asked whether Candelora was right that the state was out-bid, Lamont spokesman Max Reiss said Thursday that he was unsure the exact nature of how the order was lost, but that it likely went to another unidentified buyer.
“If that’s not an illustration of the Wild West nature of this right now, I don’t know what is,” Reiss said.
Since Lamont’s announcement Monday, municipal leaders were scrambling to schedule distribution events to quickly get tests into residents hands. However, overnight, a message was sent to local leaders saying: “No test kit flight overnight. No distributions on Thursday will be possible. More info as received,” according to the governor’s office.
The governor’s office did not publicly provide additional information about the location or status of its expected delivery early Thursday after the message was issued. A spokesman for the governor said that staff were actively engaged in conversations surrounding the shipment and that Lamont was en route from Florida to Connecticut, where he is expected to address the media later today.
Without additional information early Thursday, municipal leaders all over the state began hastily preparing to shift their public distribution schedules into next week. Both Middletown and West Hartford canceled plans to begin distributing the kits on Friday, joining a number of towns that were forced to push back earlier-scheduled deliveries on Thursday.
“A lot of people are disappointed that this didn’t work out,” Middletown’s acting Health Director Kevin Elak said Thursday. “In a perfect world, the kits would come in time and we’d be ready.”
A small fraction of the state’s order, numbering a few thousand test kits, was delivered Thursday morning by FedEx to a stateleased warehouse in New Britain. Later, the kits were handed over to Connecticut Foodshare for distribution among social service agencies.
The whereabouts of the vast majority of the state’s initial purchase, meanwhile, remained undisclosed until Lamont said the shipment was, in fact, not coming.
“This shows a ridiculous lack of deliberate planning. Instead we’ve got hasty state level crisis management causing our municipalities to jump through hoops to meet deadlines that the state government was unable to fulfill,” said Tara Carr, the Republican first selectman for Brookfield.
Carr said she knows there’s a shortage of tests across the board. “At this point, it’s each person for himself,” she said.
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” said Pete Bass, the mayor of New Milford. “A lot of time was expended within the municipalities, we acted on good faith and then to have this come up at the last minute I think was poor timing, poor planning.”
New Milford was slated to receive about 3,000 of these at-home tests. Bass said the town put out a call to residents to sign up for these tests and the slots filled up in about two hours.
“I hope we can do better next time,” Bass added.
The issues around acquiring at-home tests for Connecticut residents was met with harsh criticism from at least one Republican lawmaker.
“I’d like to say I am surprised but I’m not. Governor Lamont has a history of exaggerating his own ability. This time it’s his motive also that needs questioning,” said state Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott. “Selfserving promises are even worse than lies, especially when they are designed to generate hope and, in this case, for the singular purpose of promoting his own popularity.”
In Hartford, meanwhile, local officials began distributing 8,000 at-home test kits that the city acquired separately from the state earlier this week.
Hartford’s director of health and human services, Liany Arroyo, said Thursday that city placed the order for the test kits on Dec. 20 using $185,000 in CARES Act funding. Officials where unsure when the kits would arrive, Arroyo said, and did not schedule distribution until kits were delivered to the city on Monday.
“We wanted to make sure we had the kits in hand and everything in place before an announcement was made,” Arroyo said, adding that the city will distribute additional kits once it receives its allotment from the state.
“We feel very fortunate,” she said.
Amid uncertainty over the delivery after delays were announced Wednesday evening, Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said: “We provided realistic information to the municipalities. It is our hope that we will be able to have them in place for tomorrow ... It’s imminent. It’s just a matter of things moving, that’s all it is.”
And Mounds said the state was confident in the supplier of the tests.
“We have a legitimate supplier we have worked with in the past, we know exactly where these tests are located right now,” Mounds said at the time.
The tests, made by California-based iHealth Labs, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization.
The promise of at-home test kits comes amid an overwhelming demand for testing following the Christmas holiday as highly transmissible variants including omicron and delta sweep across Connecticut.
“We are scouring the globe, as we were a year ago when it came to masks and P.P.E. We are at it again, scouring the globe, to make sure we can get all the testing materials we need. We are making incredible progress,” Lamont said Thursday. “It’s complicated.”