[UPDATED] Wilton’s COVID Numbers Break Records; Town’s Plan to Distribute Limited Number of At-Home COVID Test Kits Leaves Some Residents Unhappy

UPDATE, 1:14 p.m. — Town officials disseminated another message to residents announcing that additional spots opened up for the signup to receive free test kits being distributed by the town. Officials said they reviewed the registrations from Monday’s signup and, “whether knowingly or unknowingly,” some residents had signed up for multiple spots.

Officials are canceling any duplicate signups and those spots are being made available through another signup link that will be activated at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4 (tonight).

The message cautioned that the link will not be active before 6 p.m. and that residents should expect the spots will fill quickly.

The message also specified that the link would not be sent with any additional email or communication later today, but that the link is also posted on the town website under News.

In addition, the message reiterated the limits in place set by the town: one time slot per person, one vehicle per household, three test kits per vehicle. In addition, the town asked that because the free kit distribution is prioritized for residents who are showing symptoms, have a known exposure or are public facing, in-person workers, anyone signing up will be asked to confirm that they qualify and should not register unless they do meet those categories.

ORIGINAL STORY, 6 a.m. — Wilton’s COVID metrics continue to set new high-water marks, as the town’s total number of recorded cases broke the 1,800 mark. Over the long New Year’s weekend, the town added 89 new individual COVID-positive cases since Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 (total 1,885 cases). (Editor’s note: Those numbers are likely higher, with at-home self-test kit usage unreported to the CT Department of Public Health.)

Wilton’s test-positivity rate for the weekend was also at an all-time high of 17.05% as the two-week rolling average new daily case rate (per 100,000) hit 124.51.

[Correction: The story has been updated from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated the two-week rolling average new daily case rate was 130.05. That is actually the seven-day rolling average.]

On the first day back from winter break, the Wilton Public Schools reported their highest number of cases yet. The district’s COVID Tracker shows 135 current cases reported among students and staff in the district, with another 28 people quarantining after close contact.

Statewide, Gov. Ned Lamont reported the following stats:

  • Hospitalizations increased by 301 patients with COVID since Thursday, Dec. 30. The total number now stands at 1,452 patients. Of the 1,452 patients currently hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, 999 (68.8%) are not fully vaccinated.
  • The number of new COVID cases added to state totals since Dec. 30 was 23,678 cases, and the state’s daily test positivity rate hit 21.5%.

Test Kit Distribution

On Monday, Jan. 3, the Town of Wilton announced that officials planned on distributing the allotment of free, state-provided COVID home test kits by first holding an online signup Monday evening. But what happened during that online signup has upset several residents who weren’t able to secure one of the few available spots to receive test kits.

An email blast sent Monday, Jan 3, (as well as via a Robocall from First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and on social media posts by Vanderslice and Wilton Police) stated that the town received “a limited number” of single-test at-home test kits to distribute to residents at no cost.

Town officials scheduled a drive-through pickup event at Allen’s Meadows (429 Danbury Rd.) on Wednesday, Jan. 5, from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Residents would be given three single-test kits per car, and only Wilton residents were eligible to sign up.

In order to receive the kits at the town’s distribution event, residents were required to sign up online for a time slot through a Signup Genius webpage created by the town. Residents were informed that there were limited numbers of tests, which meant there was a limited number of spots to accommodate what the town allocated for residents (after also setting aside a number of tests for essential town and school employees). They were also told that the signup would be handled on a “first come, first served” basis.

According to the messages sent by the town, the link to sign up was to be emailed through the town’s email alert system at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 3. It would then be posted on the Town of Wilton website homepage (under “News”) “shortly thereafter.”

At 6 p.m., when registration opened, there was a rush of people that attempted to nab one of the 570 spots that were available. By 6:05 p.m. all the spots had been filled.

All the spots in the town’s COVID-19 at-home test kit distribution were filled five minutes after the signup opened.

That left several hundreds of residents empty handed, and many of them took to social media to express their unhappiness. Several criticized the method used by the town; others said they didn’t receive the town’s email with the link to the signup until after 6 p.m. — and some said they didn’t receive it at all — leaving them at an unfair disadvantage. Some people said they were in the middle of filling out the registration form and either received error messages or just couldn’t type fast enough before spots were filled by others.

A few readers left their reactions on GMW‘s Facebook post about the distribution signup. They were mild compared to the dissatisfaction expressed on the private Wilton CT 411 Facebook group posts.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice acknowledged that residents were upset, but the town was really in a no-win situation.

“It is to be expected that people would be frustrated. Less than 10% of Wilton households were able to receive a kit based on the quantity received from the State. That means more than 90% would potentially be mad that they didn’t get one,” she told GMW in an email.

Signup Genius is a website used by many municipal organizations, and the town has used it successfully before, Vanderslice said, both during and outside the pandemic. She said she didn’t receive complaints about residents receiving error messages. “If those folks want to submit screenshots through SeeClickFix, we’ll follow up with Signup Genius,” she said.

Vanderslice also addressed the timing of the emailed link sent by the town

“The email was launched at 5:59 p.m. At least one Wilton resident received it at 5:59 p.m. as he posted a screenshot of his receipt on Facebook. I have slower DSL internet and always receive it a few minutes after launch. I received the email at 6:02 p.m. This is the same email alert system that has been in place since April 2019, with several thousand subscribers and used for storms and throughout the pandemic,” she said, adding that she herself did not sign up for a kit.

She also defended why the town handled it with an online signup rather than another way.

“A number of towns distributed kits over the weekend on a first come first serve basis. Residents were angry that they had to sit in line for hours, particularly those who were turned away. The long lines of cars created traffic jams. We thought it better that people invest 10 or less minutes on their computer and get turned away, rather than two hours in their car. So let’s everyone be honest, there isn’t any way that we could distribute such a small number of kits and everyone would think it was done fairly,” Vanderslice wrote.

One commenter on GMW‘s Facebook post criticized the scheduling of the distribution at 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., a time when many people are at work and unable to be present. Vanderslice defended the timing.

“Some people work 9 to 5, some work 3 to 7 and some work the overnight shift. Unless we make pick up 24/7, the time and day would always exclude someone. And let’s remember, we need light and the folks from CERT [who are overseeing the test handout] are volunteers with their own lives,” she wrote.

As of now, Vanderslice said the town has not heard from state officials about whether Wilton will receive more free test kits to distribute to residents. [Editor’s note: Today’s CTNewsJunkie.com has a story about the state’s acquisition of additional test kits, “More At-Home Tests Ready For Distribution.”)

Wilton also has no plans at this time to offer testing to residents, and Vanderslice explained why.

“As you might recall this was discussed and publicized at length in late 2020. In order to perform COVID testing, the business must be licensed to do so. The Town isn’t licensed to do testing. Last year, prior to the holidays, we partnered with a testing company. We provided them with space at Comstock to perform the tests. We have been in touch them again this year, but they and the other testing companies are overwhelmed at their full-time testing centers. They are dealing with staffing shortages, just like every other business and the Town and the Schools,” she said.

Notably, much of the work that town employees have had to do around setting up the logistics for test kit distribution — including the set-up and later cancellation of the first test kit plan from the state over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday — had to be done when town offices were closed and employees were on vacation.

Monday, Jan. 3 was a scheduled holiday and day off for town employees, and much of the coordination and setup started through last weekend. Many of the employees involved have also been working overtime on all the continued efforts on behalf of the town since the pandemic started in early 2020.

Vaccine Clinics in Wilton Jan. 4 and 5 for Children Ages 5-11

In his update on Monday, Wilton Schools’ Superintendent Kevin Smith wrote that vaccine clinics for children ages 5-11 have been scheduled to take place at Cider Mill School on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5.

The clinics are hosted by Griffin Health, and are not district-sponsored events.

The clinics are second-dose COVID vaccine clinics for children ages 5-11.  All families whose children attended the Dec. 13, 2021 clinic are automatically registered for the Jan. 5 clinic at the same time as their original appointment. All families who registered for the Dec. 14 clinic are registered for the Jan. 4 clinic at the same time.

Anyone wishing to cancel an appointment, or to schedule a first-dose vaccine appointment for their child is asked to use the event’s Sign Up Genius form. (Griffin Health has asked all parents whose children will be participating in the clinic for the first dose to print and complete the consent form found online in English and Spanish and bring the completed form to the appointment.)

Smith added that there will be no other clinics scheduled after Jan. 5, so anyone seeking a second dose 21 days later would need to sign up elsewhere.  Please note that these clinics are run through Griffin Health and are not district-sponsored events.

Other COVID News 

  • COVID-19 hospitalizations highest since early May 2020. Connecticut health commissioner sounds alarm about the unvaccinated. Positivity reaches 21.5.%. (Hartford Courant)
  • CVS was Lamont’s source for all 426,000 of the New Year’s Eve rapid COVID tests (CT Insider)
  • As they return to school, more kids in CT hospitals with COVID, officials say (CT Insider)
  • More At-Home Tests Ready For Distribution (CTNewsJunkie.com)
  • (FDA Press ReleaseToday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to:
    • Expand the use of a single booster dose to include use in individuals 12 through 15 years of age.
    • Shorten the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and a booster dose to at least five months.
    • Allow for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age.