With drive-through sites overrun and at-home tests often sold out, Connecticut residents are having a harder time than ever getting screened for COVID-19.
This has created frustration, confusion and plenty of questions. Here is what to know about who should be tested for COVID-19, where to find tests and more.
Who should seek a COVID-19 test?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends testing for these groups:
People with symptoms of COVID-19
People who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (with an exception for those who previously had the disease within the past three months and do not have new symptoms)
People who have been asked or required to get tested for work, school, travel or another similar reason
With testing hard to come by in recent days, some Connecticut residents have reported forgoing the tests altogether and simply assuming they have COVID-19. Dr. Ulysses Wu, an infectious disease specialist at Hartford HealthCare, says that approach can work only if people are diligent about staying apart from others.
“We don’t need the tests if everybody follows [safety protocols] to the letter of the law, but nobody does,” Wu said. “People are still coming to work when they’re sick.”
With resources scarce, Wu said he doesn’t advise testing for people who don’t have symptoms and haven’t had a potential exposure.
“I would wait for exposures, I would wait for if you’re sick,” he said.
How long after exposure should someone get tested?
According to the CDC, vaccinated people who come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 should be tested 5-7 days after that exposure, while unvaccinated people should be tested immediately after being exposed, then again 5-7 days later if symptoms develop.
People who develop COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and more — are advised to seek testing immediately.
A spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Public Health said the agency recommends following the CDC’s guidance and testing on the fifth day after exposure.
Where are tests currently available?
Connecticut residents can seek COVID-19 tests from local pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, though prompt appointments there are increasingly difficult to find. They may also purchase at-home tests online or in stores.
Additionally, more than a dozen state-supported testing sites have popped up in recent weeks, spanning across Connecticut. Sites in the Hartford area include:
Corner of Albany Ave & Woodland Street in Hartford (Monday, Wednesday and Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain (Monday and Wednesday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 12-7 p.m.)
City Hall Parking Lot in Bristol (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 12-7 p.m.)
Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown (Tuesday 3-6 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m.-12 p.m., Saturday 1-4 p.m.)
Parking lot at 13 Orange St in Meriden (Tuesday and Saturday 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Thursday 3-6 p.m.)
All of the those locations, as well as more of the other sites supported by the state, will be closed on New Year’s Day.
A full list of state-supported sites across Connecticut is available at portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Knowledge-Base/State-Supported-COVID-Testing-Sites.
Other sites, such as one at Bradley International Airport, have opened in recent days as well.
What types of tests are available?
There are two main types of tests that can reveal if someone has COVID-19: PCR tests and antigen tests.
PCR tests are the most reliable method of detecting the disease, even when someone is not symptomatic, but results often take several days.
Antigen tests — including those that can be administered at home — are less sensitive and therefore often fail to detect COVID-19 in the early days of infection and while someone is shedding the virus, but can deliver results within minutes.
Experts say asymptomatic people should be careful relying on antigen tests due to their high rate of false negatives, particularly in people who have not yet developed symptoms.
When are more testing options coming?
Gov. Ned Lamont announced this week that the state will distribute three million COVID-19 tests, as well as N95 masks, to state residents.
Distribution, which is being managed at the town level, was set to begin Thursday, but has been postponed due to “shipping and warehouse delays.”
In addition, the federal government has promised to distribute 500 million rapid tests beginning next month.
Alex Putterman can be reached at email@example.com.