Residents wait hours for tests; city looks to add site
DANBURY — Tamara Andrews tried to get a COVID-19 test on Wednesday, but the line was so long she turned around.
On Thursday, she got to the site on Memorial Drive at 10 a.m. — three hours before SEMA4 was scheduled to start testing. She watched the movie “Queen of the South” on her phone while she waited.
She’s fully vaccinated, doesn’t have symptoms and hasn’t been exposed, but with Danbury’s case rate hitting nearly 70 daily cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, she said she wants peace of mind that she doesn’t have the virus.
“I just want to get it done, better to be safe than sorry,” said Andrews,
a Danbury resident.
Demand for testing has exploded, with people from across the region coming to Danbury for testing due to illness, exposures and travel. The city has reported 803 cases since Dec. 23, with the virus spreading between households and at family gatherings, said Kara Prunty, the city’s health director.
The city looks to move to a bigger testing location and add another site. Officials hope this could be set up early next week.
“My goal is yesterday,” Danbury Mayor Dean Esposito said.
The city had hoped to distribute almost 11,000 at-home test kits, but the state’s shipment isn’t coming this week as expected.
He urges residents to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors, but does not plan to institute a mask mandate.
“At this point where we’re at right now, people have been educated enough to know that common sense would tell you to wear a mask, especially in large groups or with gatherings with family even,” Esposito said. “And get the vaccine — it could save your life.”
The testing site on Memorial Drive has caused traffic problems this week, so a new traffic pattern was set up. Cars looped into Rogers Park Middle School to be tested in the parking lot, but that won’t work once school resumes on Monday.
“We all recognize that this particular venue is congested, does not meet demand…and is somewhat a regional site because of the limited testing in the state of Connecticut,” said Matthew Cassavechia, Danbury’s emergency management director.
One family from Canada was at the Memorial Drive site on Thursday. The family of four is visiting relatives in Danbury and need negative tests to return to Prince Edward Island on Sunday.
“So hopefully we get our tests back before then,” Karen Murphy said.
Prince Edward Island has had far fewer COVID cases than this area, she said.
“There’s so many cases here,” Murphy said SEMA4, which conducts the Memorial Drive tests, would operate the bigger testing site until the company’s contract ends with the state. City officials are working with the state to determine what provider would run the second testing site, Prunty said. The National Guard could be brought in to help staff the testing, Esposito said.
The site is closed New Year’s Day, but there otherwise won’t be a “lapse” in testing, Esposito said.
In the early afternoon, cars stretched down Memorial Drive to the intersection with South Street, where vehicles were lined up heading toward Mountainville Avenue.
Danbury resident Jorge Ynoa said he got to the testing site around 9:30 a.m., about 2 ½ hours before testing began early around noon. He has COVID symptoms and tried going to an urgent care first, but by 9 a.m. that facility was booked up for tests.
He was COVID tested months ago and didn’t see this kind of demand.
“I’ve never seen this like this,” Ynoa said.
Andrews, too, has been tested for COVID before.
“It was very short. I was in and out,” she said. “This right here is something new.”
Danbury resident Kelly Pitcher and her husband, John Pitcher, tried two other locations before coming to the Memorial Drive site around 9 a.m. Kelly Pitcher has been feeling sick since Monday and needs a negative test before returning to work at a doctor’s office, she said.
“It comes and it goes,” she said. “At first I thought it was just a sinus infection.”
COVID rates rose across the Danbury area per the latest state data released on Thursday afternoon.
Ridgefield has the highest rate, averaging 102.7 daily cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks. Brookfield is not far behind with a rate of 99.7. Newtown’s rate is 85, with New Fairfield at 80.8.
Danbury’s rate is 69.9, up from 37.8 in the previous week’s report. Bethel is at 67.1, while Redding’s is at 62.7. New Milford, which a few weeks ago had the highest rates in the area, is at 61.
Before the data was released Thursday afternoon, Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said he was “bracing for more bad news.” He planned to release a statement highly encouraging residents to reassess their plans for the remainder of the holiday season.
“Because things have been trending in the right direction, people let their guard down when they have family members coming in from out of town,” Knickerbocker said, noting that most of the infections the town is seeing are from family gatherings. “Just because you’re related to them doesn’t mean they haven’t been affected by that [COVID infection].”
Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton said that anecdotally, she’s noticed more tests filtering back onto local pharmacy shelves. Pemberton tested positive for COVID-19 last week and said she has continually checked the CVS website to see if they had further test kits in stock.
“Those tests are shipping and are flowing but the demand is so high,” she said.
Pemberton expected the numbers to be “off the chart” Thursday, but also noted that the state data is no longer completely accurate because at-home test results aren’t reported to the local or state governments.
“We’re going to be looking at data in a different way, more as an indicator than an exact reflection,” Pemberton said.
In Danbury, residents may report their at-home test results through a form on the city’s website, Prunty said.
“The state has indicated that these home test kits are not for surveillance purposes, but it is a good opportunity to see what’s going on the community,” she said.