PATERSON, NJ – Although a lack of funding caused Paterson to cut back its COVID-19 testing from six days per week to two days, city officials said they may be a way to restore some of the program.

During a special city council meeting on Tuesday evening, Paterson’s health officer, Paul Persaud said LabCorp, one of the largest clinical laboratory companies in the country, told him it can bill the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act directly for the cost of testing.

Although Persaud said he wants to get confirmation from LabCorp it can be done at no cost to the city, he said it could be a way to add additional testing days to the program. As the city continues to battle a resurgence of the virus, Persaud said, “The more tests we can have, the better.”

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Persaud’s update came halfway through Tuesday’s meeting, which was called by the council to discuss the city’s efforts to try and control the outbreak. It followed an announcement last weekend by Mayor Andre Sayegh that the city’s on-demand testing program would be scaled down in anticipation of a massive roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to Business Administrator Kathleen Long, the CARES Act funding that the city was using to cover the cost of testing expired at the end of 2020. Altogether, the city received $13 million in aid from the U.S. Treasury through Passaic County's CARES allocation, and is submitting other costs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for “all pandemic-related costs,” like testing, overtime for first responders, PPE, telework purchases and vaccinations.

While council members said they learned that testing would be reduced via media reports, Long reminded them Tuesday that she told during last week’s meeting the program was going to be scaled down. 

“We have to live in the reality we are faced with,” she said. “I do wish there was more funding to continue exactly as it was.”

Likening the effort to the Bible story of the fishes and the loaves, Long told TAPinto Paterson that the Sayegh Administration has strived from the beginning of the pandemic to “make a lot from a little in order to care for as many Patersonians as possible.” 

This, she said, has included launching a large scale communicable disease investigation/contact tracing program, partnering with health care providers to make testing available early in the crisis when tests were hard to come by, providing mobile testing on demand for six days a week through the end of December, and launching a vaccination program.

The news shared by Persaud that the City may not need to incur the testing lab fee going forward was “surprising but positive,” Long said.

“I look forward to reviewing details of that agreement, as well as an updated staffing plan that shows how the Division of Health employees will support the three initiatives of contact tracing, testing, and vaccinating at specific levels.”

Armed with all of this, according to Long, the city will evaluate “where we stand” in the coming days and weeks “and see if we can ramp up again.”

Since October, when the city launched its mobile testing program, over 9,000 tests have been administered. A city-run testing center at Barnett Medical Arts Complex that opened in May has tested almost 7,000 people.  

While there are other testing locations in Paterson, they are not administered by the city and Council President Flavio Rivera said, “The public perception is that they are not run as well.” Among the complaints, he said, are long wait times for results.

Citywide, 63,000 tests have been given across nine sites, including St. Joseph’s Medical Center, the city’s online COVID-19 portal says. 

As of Tuesday, there have been 18,669 positive cases in the city and 443 virus-related deaths. After the first surge of cases last spring, the city saw a decline in positivity rates over the summer, but numbers began climbing in November, according to Persaud.

Councilwoman Maritza Davila said, “I feel we did not do enough testing in advance of the second wave. There are quite a large amount of positive cases.”

She added: “We are not doing a good job.” Davila also criticized the administration, saying its decision to scale down testing “with no conversation with the council” was “incorrect.”

Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said she believes the city needs to seek help from its local legislators, such as Congressman Bill Pascrell and Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, to steer more federal dollars to help Paterson in its battle against COVID-19.

And, amid reports that additional strains of the virus have been detected in the U.S., Cotton stressed the importance of people acting responsibly and staying home if unwell.

A schedule for the city’s mobile testing unit is available here.

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