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COVID-19 testing one, two, three ... 2.85 million

Have you had a COVID-19 test yet? We have.

As the number of COVID-19 cases surges ever upward in Connecticut, Day staffers went to test sites throughout the region to determine whether testing is easily accessible and efficient. We had mixed results. Some of us breezed through the process, while others waited for hours and experienced delays getting results. The tests were administered Nov. 9-17. Reports of long wait times are more common as the holiday approaches.

Related story: How have gatherings and events spread COVID-19 in southeastern Connecticut?

Are you wondering whether you should get tested, even though you have no symptoms and have been hunkering down or wearing your mask plus social distancing when you do go out?

"It's never wrong to get tested, because we know that asymptomatic people can be infected and do transmit the virus," Dr. Mitchell H. McClure, chief of medicine and clinical executive leader for COVID-19 testing at Hartford Healthcare, said by phone. "We encourage it for three reasons: One, if you have symptoms, two if you know you've been exposed and three, if you've been contacted by a public health official" and told you were exposed.

In southeastern Connecticut, free testing is available at a number of sites, though sometimes appointments are required, such as at CVS pharmacies. Ledge Light Health District is offering daily testing at Community Health Center sites in Groton and New London and is conducting pop-up testing events at different locations. The testing is funded by insurance companies and the state and federal governments. Residents can find testing sites by visiting ct.gov/coronavirus, typing in their ZIP code and pressing "GO."

We were not alone as we lined up to have our noses swabbed, or in some cases, to swab them ourselves.

Connecticut has ramped up its testing since the early days of the pandemic and is consistently in the top five in the nation for the number of tests administered, according to the Department of Public Health. As of Nov. 19, the DPH reported that more than 2.89 million tests have been administered. There are approximately 3.5 million residents in the state, but 2.8 million of us haven't necessarily been tested, since many have had their noses swabbed multiple times.

Hartford HealthCare has administered 470,000 COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic, and lately has been testing 3,000 to 4,000 people a day at locations throughout the state, including Dodd Stadium in Norwich. Demand for tests is high, and sometimes wait times are long. The company has hired 120 people dedicated to testing and is bringing on 120 more, McClure said.

"We certainly hate for people to wait in line, but I'm glad to hear our citizens of Connecticut are worried about (COVID-19) and going out and getting tested. There are a lot of municipalities that are encouraging testing," he said.

Some of the tests are processed in-house, and others are sent to labs in the state and elsewhere.

The vast majority of Hartford Healthcare's results are available in under three days, a significant improvement since the beginning of the pandemic, and the company is working to speed that up, McClure said. He cautioned that it's important to understand the limitations of testing.

Hartford HealthCare, like the other providers we tried, is conducting PCR testing, also known as molecular testing, which determines whether the genetic material of COVID-19 is present in the sample.

"The test tells you if the virus is there," McClure said. "It doesn't tell you if you've been exposed to the virus and you may become contagious in a couple of days. It doesn't tell you about your risk of exposure. I think it's important to add that testing will diagnose if you have the virus, but in some people the infection can be very severe, so avoidance is a much better strategy than testing."

A different type of testing, known as antigen testing, looks for protein fragments, or antigens, from the virus and often is used in health care settings, including nursing homes, to rapidly determine whether someone has the virus.

k.florin@theday.com

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