New Milford seeks to increase COVID-19 testing capacity for the fall

Medical personnel work in Hartford HealthCare's new drive-through COVID-19 testing sight inside the parking garage adjacent to the Arena at Harbor Yard, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 25, 2021.

Medical personnel work in Hartford HealthCare’s new drive-through COVID-19 testing sight inside the parking garage adjacent to the Arena at Harbor Yard, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 25, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — The town health department hopes to open a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in anticipation of the fall and start of school.

While private doctors’ offices provide tests in town, there is only one publicly available testing site still available — the local Urgent Care — for those without a primary care doctor. So, the town has applied for a special state waiver and an outpatient clinic license to offer additional on-site testing this fall.

“We’re trying to make sure that the town is in the best position possible going into the fall to have the resources we need,” Health Director Lisa Morrissey said.

The new test site would initially open for specimen collection at the John Pettibone Community Center — where the town has been handling vaccinations — in August after receiving an outpatient clinic license. These specimens are sent to laboratories for testing before they’re sent back to the town.

Morrissey expects a state license inspection in July.

With an added state waiver, the town hopes to expand to full, on-site testing this fall, cutting wait times and adding rapid-test options.

The additional testing would not come at a cost to taxpayers and will be covered by “a variety of sources,” including state contracts, Morrissey said.

During the height of the pandemic, there were several pop-up locations and free state-run testing sites, which have since shuttered.

“It was really important to us that if you did have a need to get a COVID test, we didn’t want your ability to pay to be the determinate factor on whether or not you got tested,” Morrissey said.

Testing is not in high demand. Just 10 or 14 people have gotten tested some weeks, and the town has had less than five new cases over the past month, Morrissey said at a Town Council meeting Monday.

Over the previous 10 days, 97 residents have been tested throughout the community, she said. She noted a slight uptick around the July 4 holiday as people without symptoms came to get tested.

However, in the next few months, Morrissey said new testing requirements for schools and workplaces are a possibility, and the town needs to be prepared.

“It’s kind of like gazing into a crystal ball that I don’t have,” Morrissey said. “Like everyone else, all I can really do is speculate, because there are so many variables at play currently.”

The local health department has aided neighboring counties and towns during the pandemic, continuing to offer COVID-19 vaccines as mass vaccination and other health department sites shut down. Morrissey said she’s seen people coming throughout Litchfield County and Fairfield County.

Like the vaccines, the expanded clinic would also be available to neighboring communities.

“Here’s the thing about public health: it doesn’t really have borders,” Morrissey said. “What happens in our neighboring communities definitely impacts us here in New Milford.”

It’s not just increased testing Morrissey is preparing for. She’s also keeping an eye on vaccine demand.

With anticipation of 2- to- 11-year-olds getting approved for the vaccine in the coming months, paired with mandatory school vaccines, Morrissey told the Town Council she wants to be prepared — with enough vaccine and manpower — to meet community needs.

The department has already partnered with public and private schools in the area to prepare for back-to-school vaccinations, according to Morrissey.

She added that the department “want(s) to make sure we’re nimble and we can scale up or scale back” based on community needs.

“As long as people are looking for the service, we’re going to provide the service,” she said.