WAYNE, NJ – On a chilly, drizzly day on Wednesday, about fifty volunteers gathered on the campus of William Paterson University to begin the process of testing people for COVID-19.
This was the first day of Passaic County’s coronavirus testing site and the all-volunteer group braved the cold from the morning orientation at 7:30am – until the last car came through at 2:00pm.
“Over the next four days, we’re going to be able to do 1,000 tests specifically for residents of Passaic County who have been given a prescription by their doctor to be tested for COVID-19,” said County Freeholder and Wayne Resident John Bartlett.
The WPU campus parking lot was set up with a long, winding path between orange cones for cars to come in and lineup. “We want to be able to keep 600 cars off Hamburg Turnpike and off of Central and on campus,” said Bartlett.
From reports, there were between one-hundred and one-hundred twenty-five cars that showed up today, but more could be coming on future test dates. According to Bartlett, the county will keep the testing site open for as long as they have test kits available and the need to test is still there.
Stewart Resmer, a sixty-nine-year-old resident of Wayne and former Marine could not resist the call to volunteer, just as he had done for the Viet Nam War more than fifty years earlier. “I don’t think I would’ve missed it for anything,” he said.
Over 140 medical professionals have volunteered for shifts at the testing site. They range from Physicians, Nurses, EMTs and people with basic training like Resmer, who had learned basic first-aid training in the Marines and took a CPR course.
As cars lined up, they passed a sign giving the restrictions for testing and Bartlett heard that many cars turned around and left after seeing the sign. “I’m not sure if they weren’t residents, or didn’t have a prescription,” he said. “I want to be sensitive to the needs of all, but we need to manage the limited number of test kits we have and get the best use of them. Which is why we require the prescriptions.”
Before giving prescriptions for COVID testing, physicians should first be screening out anyone with the flu or strep, and after evaluations determine that the test is necessary.
Once the occupants of the cars were checked-in, they were sent down to the testing site. Resmer called this area ‘the chute,’ because cars had to come between the solar-paneled parking lot roof structures and into a large tented area.
As each car came into the chute, a doctor would go to the window with an assistant. The person’s identification and their prescription were logged, the number of people were counted in each car, and then began the process of collection.
Resmer described one of the doctors saying to a woman in her car: “Look up at the Empire State Building; higher, higher. And when her head was tilted way back, he then ran the swab down her nose, It looks kind of uncomfortable, because it was a long swab,” he added with a laugh.
“My job today was as a time-keeper,” said Resmer. “I logged the time that each sample was taken. A small job, but it was part of the mandated process.”
Once the specimen was collected on the swab, it went into a bag for the ‘collectors,’ who then placed the swab in a vial and marked it with the correct identification and the time of collection. From there the samples went into a medical cooler and at the end of the shift were sent to commercial labs for testing. The County believes test results will be back within a week.
Resmer said: “In the beginning collections were taking four to five minutes to accomplish, but by the end of the day, the teams had the collection down to two minutes.”
How was the team of volunteers during the day? “After the first twenty minutes where a lot of questions were asked, everyone settled in, and it got quiet,” said Resmer. “But there was good esprit de corps,” he added.
According to Resmer’s unofficial count, fifty-seven cars come through his team’s chute. So, between both teams more than one hundred cars came through. “I couldn’t tell how many people were in each car, so I’m not sure how many were tested, but we had, I believe, thirty-nine test kits unused at the end of the day.”
Day two is tomorrow and the teams will be out there again.
“Today was a great example of what we do when we work together,” said Bartlett. “It was really impressive. The volunteers, people from the County, from the Sheriff’s Department, from almost every office in the county government, including IT staff. This was a true ‘All Hands On Deck’ moment. Everyone is really rising to the occasion and I couldn’t be prouder of our County staff from top to bottom.”
The Freeholder mentioned that none of us should assume that this will end at 1,000 tests or after four days. Because of this, he said: “Anyone who fits the criteria is encouraged to contact the county to volunteer.”
To volunteer in Passaic County, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Passaic County Department of Health at 973-881-4396.
“The great dilemma and challenge we have in State, County and Local government is conveying why it is so, so important to be hyper-vigilant about social distancing and, despite the frustration, to continue to have the schools and non-essential businesses closed,” said Bartlett.
“Today we have the ventilators,” said Bartlett. “Today we have the masks and gloves. But unless we flatten the curve, we won’t have these things for an exponential increase in cases.”
“We are not ahead of it yet,” he said. “And, it’s going to take sticking with these restrictions to get ahead of it.”
It’s clear that the residents of Wayne and Passaic County, and the local governements are willing to do what it takes to face this challenge with guts and determination, which has always been the American Way.