NEWARK, NJ — Residents of 516 Bergen St. were confused, some upset, when they came home last week to notices that their lobby would soon become a COVID-19 testing site. 

The apartment building, which houses about 180 seniors and is listed as one of the city’s "high risk” sites, was one of three Newark Housing Authority locations alongside the James C. White and Branch Brook Manor apartments chosen for testing for the clinics on the first floor of each building. 

The testing, part of the NHA’s endeavor to test all its residents in partnership with the city, was open to all residents of the building and any NHA resident within walking distance with a physician referral. But for some residents who have been mindful of the building’s high-risk status, the presence of potentially infected outsiders in their lobby was cause for concern. 

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“When I heard it was going to be for all Newark Housing residents, I said, how can that be?” said 516 Bergen St. resident Darnella Lee. “These seniors are vulnerable.” 

As the NHA moves to expand testing to more than 30,000 residents at its senior and family low-income complexes, Executive Director Victor Cirilo said that seeing testing sites pop up all over the city is a new norm that residents will have to get used to seeing. 

At all testing sites, Cirilo said social distancing is enforced and the staff on-site are managing the number of people they see by appointment to avoid crowding. All testing sites are being thoroughly disinfected. 

 The Bergen Street testing site only saw about 36 individuals for tests, according to Cirilo. 

“It’s a service that we need in order for us to open up the building and open up the city,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxiety, COVID-19 is a silent enemy. But what we’re trying to do is help, so we can open up the building to everyone else.”

Identifying how many people in a given building are positive is critical to the city’s contact tracing efforts. The NHA has tentative plans to return to some buildings for individuals who did not have time to get referrals from a physician the first time. 

The testing is covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance. The tests are nasal swabs and will be processed by Sunrise Diagnostic Laboratories of South Plainfield and HealthEast Medical Alliance in Englewood, with results returned in 24 to 48 hours, according to the NHA.