An explosion of new COVID infections and hospitalizations has sparked unprecedented demand for testing in every corner of Connecticut that has often overwhelmed health care and government officials scrambling to keep pace. The public clamoring for coronavirus tests reached such a fever pitch in recent days \u2013 with demand up at least six-fold in a month for one major health network \u2013 implications have spilled far beyond the medical world, from political strife to concerns about ensuring equal testing access to quarrels over keeping public schools open safely.\u00a0 In response, health care providers and state leaders in recent days made a variety of pledges to expand capacity of both in-person and at-home testing.\u00a0 Experts don\u2019t expect the situation to let up anytime soon. \u201cWe expect this demand to continue for some time,\u201d said Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare. \u201cWe are seeing a tremendous demand on testing across the system.\u201d\u00a0 To keep up, some health organizations have rationed their resources. One of the state\u2019s biggest providers of in-person testing, Yale New Haven Health, has begun limiting tests for people who don\u2019t have symptoms. Another site, Trinity Health of New England\u2019s drive-through test site at Saint Francis Hospital, shut down because there weren\u2019t enough staff to administer tests after many fell ill. The desire for testing is being driven by a surge in infections, primarily of the omicron variant, combined with the rising popularity of negative tests as a ticket to social and public events. On Friday, Connecticut\u2019s daily COVID positivity rate reached a new high of 24.5 percent, while hospitalizations continued to inch closer to a pandemic record set in April of 2020. \u00a0 The state reported an average of 35,700 tests per day in the 15 days ending Friday, compared with an average of 23,300 in the 15 days beginning with Thanksgiving. \u00a0That increase, however, does not reflect what is likely millions of additional at-home tests purchased by the state and by residents on their own. Health officials have stressed the variant in most cases appears to be causing more mild cases. Josh Geballe, the state\u2019s chief operating officer, said during a recent briefing with news reporters that the administration\u2019s efforts have included asking the state\u2019s existing testing providers to add appointments to their schedules as well as new sites. The state has also been scrambling to secure and distribute millions of at-home test kits, which are in short supply nationwide at brick-and-mortar and online retailers alike. \u201cWe see the lines, we hear the frustration,\u201d Geballe said. \u201cWe are very focused on this.\u201d Political turmoil Gov. Ned Lamont\u2019s efforts to get at-home test kits into the hands of Connecticut residents got off to a bumpy start just before the new year. The state\u2019s first supply of at-home test kits arrived later and in fewer numbers than originally anticipated after an earlier shipment was abruptly canceled, forcing local leaders to hastily reschedule distribution to residents. His critics have pounced on the political fumble, even as the administration has successfully doled out 1.8 million at-home tests in the days since. Republicans, including Themis Klarides, the former GOP House leader who is actively considering a run for governor this year, and the head of the state Republican Party continue to fault Lamont for failing to prepare for the surge in demand for testing. In an op-ed in the Connecticut Post on Friday, Klarides said Lamont was \u201ccaught flat-footed\u201d despite projections that the omicron variant \u201cwould disrupt this year\u2019s holiday season.\u201d \u00a0She called on the governor to \u201ccome clean and provide complete transparency\u201d about why the deal fell apart. Later Friday, Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, asked for a full accounting of the at-home test kits the Lamont administration \u201chas contractual agreements for\u201d and when more tests will be delivered to cities and towns. \u201cThousands of families are still in need and lack other reasonable alternatives to at-home testing\u2014State Covid Testing Sites\u2014because these sites are now overwhelmed,\u201d Berthel said in a letter to Lamont. \u201cAs a result, families presently face hours-long wait times and test shortages with hundreds being turned away.\u201d House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R- North Branford, said in a statement Tuesday that the confusion over the failed deal warranted further investigation. \u201cIt seems like a matter that\u2019s appropriate for Attorney General [William] Tong\u2019s office to investigate, and I think it\u2019s a necessary step if the governor hopes to rebuild some of the trust he\u2019s lost through this debacle,\u201d Candelora said. Tong\u2019s office did not say this week whether the attorney general, a Democrat, had plans to investigate the matter.\u00a0 Max Reiss, the governor\u2019s director of communications, said Friday the administration continues to provide information as shipments come in. \u201cWe\u2019re continuing to work with suppliers to get more shipments into the state,\u201d Reiss said. \u201cSo far, we\u2019ve delivered 1.8 million tests, which per capita is, I believe, the highest in the region.\u201d He said more tests were scheduled to be distributed Saturday to early childhood educators.\u00a0 Tests, but for whom? At issue is not just the number of tests, but who gets them. The state\u2019s association of community health centers is charging that Connecticut\u2019s system for distributing the tests is once again widening the gap between the privileged and the state\u2019s lower income residents, many of whom are served by the health centers.\u00a0 \u201cAt the last round, we were at the table helping make decisions, and this time, we feel like an outsider,\u201d Ken Lalime, CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, said in an interview this week. As late as Dec. 21, when the health centers asked for money to conduct more testing, Lamont\u2019s administration said the testing in place was adequate. \u00a0 Separately, organizations representing disabled people have sued the state over access to tests, which they said are distributed in a way that prevents their clients from receiving them. And in schools, testing procedures in schools have also been a matter of controversy, as teachers\u2019 unions and other critics say there needs to be more testing in place \u2013 and even the protocols that are in force depend on a supply of tests that could easily run out. The plan is for any student sent home sick, or who becomes sick at home, to be given an at-home test. In addition, students known to have been exposed to someone with COVID are also given tests. The Lamont administration distributed 490,000 tests to schools, but that amounts to less than one per student and well under one per person when the tens of thousands of teachers and other staff are included. More tests were the first item on a list of nine demands that the teachers\u2019 unions presented. For now, supplies appear adequate but the administration has not been able to promise a steady supply. \u201cUp to 60 percent of my members don\u2019t have access to masks. More than 70 percent have reported not having access to testing. That wasn\u2019t the agreement,\u201d said Katie Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, in a press conference this past week. \u201cAnd I think we can all agree that\u2019s not the workspace we want to be in. This is a big concern on how we are going to safely run our schools across the state. What we have seen is a real lack of a plan.\u201d\u00a0 Hospitals cite staff shortages\u00a0 Around the state, test site operators said they\u2019re working to increase the number of appointments they can offer. Kumar, of Hartford HealthCare, said the network was testing roughly 250 people each day, on average, in early December. As of Tuesday morning, Kumar said, that daily figure had risen to between 1,500 and 2,000 people.\u00a0 Kumar said the testing operations at their six drive-up locations and roughly two dozen urgent care centers have the supplies they need readily available and labs can quickly turn around results after nearly two years of practice. But the network\u2019s biggest challenge to adding more COVID-19 test appointments is finding people to staff its sites. Despite that hurdle, the health network said Friday it plans to open seven new testing trailers across the state in the coming week, increasing its testing capacity by 25 percent. The trailers are easier to staff and keep workers warmer than the tents that have often been used, health leaders said Friday. Yale New Haven Health was conducting about 20,000 testing appointments weekly a year ago. Now it is offering about 31,000 testing appointments per week. But even that volume is not enough to meet demand. A spokesman for Yale New Haven Health said 99 percent of appointments are filled, noting some slots are held for its health care workers and first responders, patients with scheduled procedures and others. Dr. Scott Roberts, associate director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital, said the network has curbed testing for people who are asymptomatic. \u201cIt's more the staffing to do the tests,\u201d he said. \u201cWe just had so many people, so many health care workers who are getting infected and having to stay home, and so we're prioritizing for the highest risk individuals such as symptomatic people, people who are exposed who we need to know if they're positive several days after the exposure, and not prioritizing as much for situations where we really should be testing but we simply don't have the capacity.\u201d Stamford Hospital is offering 300 testing appointments per day at its Bennett Medical Center campus, double the 150 per day it doled out during the slower summer months. Liz Longmore, senior vice president of ambulatory services and consumer and patient experience for the health system, said during the summer, same-day appointments for testing were readily available and not all slots were taken. Now, all slots are booked for the next week. Longmore said Stamford Health also opened 300 appointments per day during last winter's surge in cases. But the demand for those same number of slots this season exceeds what the organization saw last year. So, she said, Stamford Health is hiring for new staff in order to expand capacity to test beyond the usual winter surge they prepared for. "We ensured that we had stockpiled testing supplies, that we had staffing in place, but we are seeing demand that is above what we saw last winter," she said.\u00a0 A list of COVID-19 test locations posted online by the state of Connecticut and United Way includes about 400 sites across the state, of which 116 test at no cost to patients.\u00a0 Pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens, among the largest testing operations in Connecticut and across the United States, each declined to answer specific questions about how many appointments are available to Connecticut residents. A CVS spokeswoman said \u201cwe have the inventory and capacity to meet ongoing COVID-19 testing and vaccination needs, including in areas of high demand.\u201d\u00a0 But just a couple of open appointments were available to schedule online for a lab-based diagnostic test at CVS sites anywhere in the Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport or Stamford areas as of Friday afternoon. John Moritz, Jordan Nathaniel Fenster, and Ken Dixon contributed to this report.