‘Watertight deal’ to get COVID-19 testing in Connecticut collapses

A promised order of 1.5 million COVID-19 home test kits due to be en route to Connecticut is not arriving, Governor Ned Lamont said Thursday evening.

Lamont earlier this week told municipalities to prepare for the arrival of rapid test kits on Thursday. Many cities scheduled distributions based on the governor’s assurances, only to then cancel them as it became clear that no test was coming.

The state had a “tight deal” with a supplier who sent authorities photos of the supplies, Lamont said. State officials have repeatedly stated that they have a purchase order from a wholesaler, and because the kits were never delivered, no state money was paid to whom. whether it be.

“We absolutely had a contract and we issued a purchase order on the contract,” Public Health Ministry commissioner Dr Manisha Juthani said. “We were given photos and confirmation that the product was being loaded and on its way – these were misrepresented to us. So we did everything according to the book. The way you would expect the Crown to make a purchase of this magnitude. Things have been twisted to us.

Lamont said the state has received test kits and is “traveling the world” right now to find out more.

“It’s complicated. It’s kind of like the masks a year and a half ago. It’s not like Federal Express where they say it’s going to be delivered at 10 am the next morning and if isn’t there, you get your money back, “Lamont said.” It’s more like a price hike. If you’ve ever done Uber and Lyft where you think you have a deal, at the last moment that truck goes somewhere else.

The state was working with the Glastonbury company to secure the test kits

The wholesaler the state was working with on the deal, Jack Rubenstein CT LLC of Glastonbury, had previously done business with the state and helped the state procure millions of N95 masks at the start of the pandemic. Over the past two years, the state has paid the company nearly $ 15 million to purchase PPE.

The state signed an $ 18.5 million purchase order with the Glastonbury company on December 26. The deal called for the wholesaler to deliver 1.5 million home test kits made by iHealth for the state, according to a purchase order.

Jack Rubenstein CT LLC is owned by Jeffrey Barlow. In a brief phone conversation with the CT Mirror on Thursday, Barlow said he couldn’t talk about the contract because it was busy.

“I’m working on some supply chain stuff right now,” Barlow said, adding he wasn’t sure when the kits would arrive in Connecticut yet, before politely saying he needed to hang up. .

The state has yet to pay Barlow any of the $ 18.5 million, according to state comptroller’s records.

In a conference call with local officials Wednesday, Juthani told them the delay was “due to shipping and warehouse delays which are really beyond the control of the state of Connecticut” and like “everyone else. everyone knows, there have been problems with air travel throughout this country, especially in the past week alone.

When the pandemic hit, Barlow registered his company as a seller for the state of Connecticut and shifted from its usual business of importing consumer electronics from China and wholesaling here in the United States to the securing PPE.

In an article in a Tulane University alumni magazine, Barlow said he used his connections developed in China over the past 10 years to obtain the hard-to-find masks.

“It was definitely a learning curve for me. You have to quickly learn to listen and talk to people and try to understand both the customer side and the supplier side and educate yourself on the different products and levels,” he said. Barlow told the Tulane publication.

“When you place orders for millions of units at a time, you want to make sure you’re getting the right product for what customers need,” he said.

Angry city leaders

The constantly evolving target of when the kits arrived frustrated many municipal leaders unhappy with the entire management of the distribution by the Lamont team.

Lamont held a virtual meeting with all city leaders on Monday to tell them about the kits and prepare to distribute them, but it was only about half an hour before he announced it to the public and said that they would be distributed in their local towns. from Thursday.

The announcement and tight deadline forced city officials to rush through a week’s vacation to find locations to distribute the kits, line up staff to work on sites, and figure out who was going to get them, all while answering questions. hundreds of phone calls from residents asking when tests would come, how much they could get and a variety of other questions.

Many had set up distribution sites for Thursday. Many of those who had scheduled them for Friday have already canceled as well.

“Like everything else rolled out by the state, without a plan and thrown into our municipal towers to try to figure it out, they change the rules on time, we work tirelessly as your elected officials to try to get you the information most specific about testing kits and distribution of N95 masks, ”Harwinton First Selectmen Michael Criss wrote on the city’s website as he announced the cancellation of the city giveaway.

“We do our best to sort through mountains of information, times or meetings and keep the information as clear and concise as possible, so please share the information and keep the politics out of that,” did he declare.

“We regret to inform you that we will not be distributing home test kits and masks tomorrow as originally planned,” said City of South Windsor Director Michael Maniscalco.

“Although we have developed a full distribution plan, it is now on indefinite suspension. Unfortunately, the test kits promised by the state of Connecticut have not arrived. Once we are confident the City of South Windsor will receive test kits, we will share further distribution information. “

When asked if he would have done something different this week, Lamont said, “I think we got a little ahead of ourselves, to tell you the truth, on Monday. Yes, we all thought the tests were on the plane, we thought they were here… we certainly wanted to give our municipalities some time for planning.

About Anne Wurtsbach

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