FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved a resolution amending the county Health Department’s COVID-19 testing service agreement with Hunterdon Medical Group, expanding on the existing county agreement to include no prescription needed service for first responders and healthcare workers; teachers and childcare workers; restaurant, food preparation and grocery store employees; group home staff and residents; and others who work in public settings or critical industry roles.

This expands on the previous agreement for receiving COVID-19 testing at the current HMG test site, at 121 Route 31 South, Suite 100, in Raritan Township.

The modified agreement and no-prescription protocols for those in such essential categories take effect Oct. 13, and the agreement runs through Dec. 31.

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During her report to the freeholder board, Hunterdon County Health Officer Karen DeMarco said, in an effort to increase the availability of COVID testing, the freeholder board’s agreement with Hunterdon Medical Group to expand the existing county-approved testing program is a timely measure.

“Since July, the county has partnered with Hunterdon Medical Group in order to provide COVID-19 testing at the HMG operation at Rt. 31, Raritan Township, on select days each week,” she said. “The agreement expands testing beyond individuals who are symptomatic to now include first responders, teachers, daycare workers and other essential infrastructure workers who routinely have close contact with the public.”

“Under the new agreement, qualifying individuals can be tested at the HMG location without a prescription, a change from our previous agreement,” she added. “The expansion of the current test site provides a program responding to the needs of the community for testing. And the county is seeking to further expand the COVID-19 testing availability for residents with the use of CARES Act funding, and more information will be provided in the near future.”

Though prescriptions aren’t needed for qualifying individuals, county residents seeking a test must schedule an appointment by calling 908-237-4230 or emailing HMGDOTTesting@hhsnj.org.

DeMarco reported that, as of Oct. 6, Hunterdon County has seen a surge in COVID-19 activity, and the total COVID-19 positive case number among county residents stands at 1,396 cases. Of greater concern, the rate of transmission in the county rose to over 1.0 percent, while, across New Jersey, the statewide rate of transmission jumped to 1.26 percent on Tuesday.

The Hunterdon County Health Department is actively investing COVID-19 cluster spread from large public gatherings and within long-term care facilities. At the end of September, in a one-day period, there were 25 new positive cases reported to the Health Department, the highest reported case count in one single day since May 2020, DeMarco told the freeholders.

“A rate of transmission above 1 percent means that current positive cases are transmitting COVID-19 to more than just one person,” she said. “In Hunterdon County, there has been an increase in the number of cases reported each day. As we’re seeing case numbers and COVID-19 clusters increase, quickly identifying cases in the community is critical to controlling the spread of illness. With an accurate COVID diagnosis, the county Health Department interviews the case and advises them to isolate themself from others until they are no longer contagious. We notify individuals exposed to the case and we advise them to quarantine for 14 days. Isolation and quarantine are our best measures of protection against COVID-19.”

A day after the Freeholders approved the amended testing agreement, Chief Operating Officer of Hunterdon Medical Group LuAnn Trainer expanded on the agreement.

“We are pleased to offer expanded testing to our community through our joint partnership with the Hunterdon County Health Department,” she said. “We want to remind our community to continue to be vigilant and wear a mask, practice social distancing and continue to wash your hands frequently. Together, we can help contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren spoke about the modified agreement between Hunterdon County and Hunterdon Medical Group, and said the service that will be provided to residents and employees in the area will be valuable in the fight to “stop the spread” of COVID-19 as the colder weather months arrive and testing becomes readily available.

“The freeholders’ priority concern has been to make testing available for more categories of people, particularly those whose jobs put them in close contact with others and those who have had contact with positive COVID cases,” he said. “I believe it is important to provide people with the opportunity for testing without a prescription, and we are very appreciative of the efforts of our county Health Officer Karen DeMarco, as well as HMG’s leadership as this was able to be accomplished. “I thank the Hunterdon Medical Group for its work with our county health department. As Ms. DeMarco explained, the more people that can be tested, the more the spread of the virus can be contained.”

Deputy Director Sue Soloway, the board’s liaison for the Department of Health, said that the cooperative testing program between Hunterdon County and HMG has been very successful.
“The Freeholder Board is most appreciative of the hospital’s team working in collaboration with the Health Department team to make it work effectively,” she said. “Expanded testing and the county Health Department’s exceptional contact tracing program will help health officials stay in front of any potential increased spread of coronavirus. We greatly appreciate HMG’s willingness to work with the county on this project.”

Soloway presided over the Oct. 6 meeting, held in-person at the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse. Van Doren opted to participate via telephone for the first freeholder board meeting held in-person since March 17 because, as he noted at the start of the meeting, a family member had tested positive for COVID-19 and he was in close contact with that person.

The county governing body’s director made sure to state that he did not attend President Donald Trump’s fundraiser held last week in Bedminster at Trump National Golf Course. Van Doren said he was not there, and so was not exposed to the President and a few of his close staff members who have tested positive for the virus since last week.

The Trump campaign held a $2,800-per-ticket fundraiser at the President’s private golf club on Oct. 1.

In addition to COVID’s spread, the County Health Department is tracking the latest data it collects daily on the influenza (flu) seasonal activity in Hunterdon County. Healthcare and governmental officials have warned about a double epidemic this fall with COVID-19’s spread and the flu season.

“In the last two weeks, the Health Department continues to see a concerning increase in COVID-19 activity in Hunterdon County,” DeMarco said. “Based on the trends of increased COVID-19 activity in the county and New Jersey, we cannot stress enough the need to continue the guidance on limiting large gatherings and taking measures to protect yourself and others. Residents are urged to remain vigilant about protecting their health. Avoid large crowds and social gatherings, wear a mask when in public and wash hands thoroughly and frequently. Most importantly, stay home when you are sick.”

“It is understandable that in this pandemic we may all experience fatigue from guidelines and precautions and our lives are impacted,” she added. “Please continue to protect your health whether you are in the workplace, at school, in a grocery store or at home. And please continue to stay informed through reliable sources.”