PATERSON, NJ – The City of Paterson plans to partner with the Paterson Housing Authority to provide free COVID-19 testing for residents.

During a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Andre Sayegh announced six local test sites would soon open and some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, senior citizens, would be the first to receive screenings.

City officials wanted to open a testing site as part of initial efforts to limit the spread of the virus, but they said the county suggested it be located on the campus of William Paterson University in Wayne.

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The distance, many argued, combined with the prevalence of households with no private vehicles, as well as the danger of transporting potentially sick individuals on public transit, has made it difficult for Paterson residents to get tested.

Paterson Housing Authority Executive Director Irma Gorham said, “We want all our residents to be safe.”

“We believe if we can find the disease, we can prevent its spread and most importantly, let seniors know we really care about them and that they can stay in place and get the care they need,” she said.

Details on exact locations will be announced in coming days and once testing starts, Sayegh said, he expects the city’s confirmed case number will rise. The mayor, who recently recovered from coronavirus, predicted that if the city “can ramp up testing,” they’ll be able to identify who should be isolated and who may be infected, which will help its contact tracing efforts.

“We want to continue to put COVID in a box. We want to slow the spread of the virus in lieu of therapeutics, which are still three to six months away. A vaccine is still 12 to 18 months away. What can we do now?,” Sayegh said. “Paterson has a plan for resilience and recovery.”

In Paterson, the third largest city in the state, there were more than 4,276 cases and 138 virus-related deaths as of Tuesday. Statewide, there are more than 113,850 people infected and 6,440 fatalities.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a six-point plan on how New Jersey will transition out of shutdown mode but did not include a timetable for when restrictions may be lifted. Sayegh noted that the governor’s plan didn’t include a date because easing restrictions should be based “on data.”

“It’s about looking at all the metrics to guide your decision-making process,” the mayor said. 

Sayegh recently told TAPInto Paterson officials are tracking everything, including the volume of virus-related EMS calls, coronavirus patient admissions, hospital bed rates, local intensive care unit capacities, recovered patient rates and how many tests are being performed.

A return to life like it was before March 16 – when Sayegh issued an order effectively shutting down Paterson except for non-essential business operations – has “to be logical and thought out,” he said. 

Over the past month, Sayegh said “it hasn’t been easy getting acclimated” to the new normal in the city. Schools are closed, most businesses are shutparks are inaccessible,  and people are being urged to distance from each other to prevent the spread of the virus.

And, city officials have been busy – enforcing orders that have come with the state of emergency, urging residents to stay home, coordinating with state and federal government regarding resources and support and trying to keep the public as informed as possible.

Right now, the city is trying to get a sense of how severely local business owners have been impacted by the public health emergency.

The Department of Economic Development is working to survey local businesses, as well as keep them apprised on financial aid as details on resources become available from state and federal government. They’ll also try to identify which neighborhoods and businesses were affected the most to assist economic recovery efforts.

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