State looks to ramp up coronavirus testing


By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — The state government is now advertising for coronavirus testing services to support efforts to reopen Connecticut businesses as safely and as quickly as possible.

The solicitation issued Tuesday gives interested bidders until Friday to submit offers and prices for both diagnostic and antibody testing. There was no timetable provided for awarding the one-year contracts.

Gov. Ned Lamont has ordered all but essential businesses closed through May 20. How soon that order can be relaxed will depend on molecular testing to determine who has been infected and antibody testing to indicate who might be immune to the virus.

Lamont reported Tuesday the state has averaged 2,600 diagnostic tests for coronavirus disease 2019 in the last seven days. He had no statistics on antibody testing that some hospitals have recently started to offer mostly to first responders and health care workers.

Lamont estimated that Connecticut should be able to increase testing over the next month.

The Lamont administration is awaiting on scientific advice on how many diagnostic and antibody tests will be required to get businesses reopened and people back to work, said Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.

He said the recently formed Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board is now reviewing the state’s testing needs. Members include experts from within the state’s medical and scientific communities.

“We hope to share some information on that in the coming weeks,” Geballe said.

HARTFORD HEALTHCARE AND QUEST DIAGNOSTICS have embarked on a partnership that will allow the health network to significantly increase its testing capacity.

Hartford HealthCare performs 500 tests a day, said Jeffrey Flaks, the president and CEO. The new arrangement with Quest will boost that daily number to 2,500 tests, he said.

Hartford HealthCare also plans to increase capacity at existing testing locations in Norwich, Hartford, Torrington, Bridgeport and New Britain.

Flaks said the health network is also investigating other ways to bring testing to traditionally underserved communities, including establishing mobile testing centers.

One of the limits has been access to specimen acquisition kits, and the partnership with Quest will boost that critical supply, said Dr. James P. Carden, the executive vice president of Hartford HealthCare who is responsible for overseeing its testing centers.

“We’ve knocked down all the different barriers to expanding capacity, literally in the last four to five weeks,” said Steve Ruckowski, chairman, CEO and president of Quest Diagnostics.

Ruckowski said Quest has conducted 50% of all tests for COVID-19 that had been done in Connecticut.

NEARLY 64,200 DIAGNOSTIC TESTS were completed through mid-day Tuesday, 1,400 of which had been done since Monday.

The number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by 545 patients to 20,360. There was a net increase of 30 hospitalized patients to 1,949 statewide Tuesday between new admissions and discharges.

The number of deaths associated with COVID-19 also increased by 92 to 1,423. The first death was announced on March 18.

The Naugatuck Valley Health District reported there have been 128 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in Naugatuck and 27 in Beacon Falls as of Tuesday afternoon. The health district this week reported the first coronavirus-related death of a Naugatuck resident, a woman in her 80s.

The Chesprocott Health District reported there have been 32 laboratory-confirmed cases in Prospect.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Flaks said Hartford HealthCare is in the early stages of offering antibody tests. He said the testing is being provided to first responders and front line heath care workers, but there are plans to broaden availability.

Ruckowski estimated that Quest should be able to conduct four times as many blood-based antibody tests in Connecticut.

“By way of example, we have about 120 patient service centers. We have 100 phlebotomists in physician offices,” he said. “We have about 400 to 500 phlebotomists throughout the state, and we have partners like Hartford HealthCare that provide the capability of drawing that blood specimen to do the serological test.”

Geballe said the state government is also working with other health care providers and laboratories to build testing capacity in the same manner as the Hartford HealthCare and Quest are doing.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.