PATERSON, NJ – St. Joseph’s Medical Center corrected a Paterson council candidate who, in an attempt to provide the public with COVID-19 information, recommended people visit emergency rooms for testing, something that hospitals and officials are strongly advising against. 

Alex Mendez, a former councilman and ex-mayoral candidate, posted a video on Facebook Friday from outside the hospital, saying he just met with a hospital coordinator and has “some good information” to share. 

Spurred by “a lot of phone calls” from residents who are concerned they were exposed to coronavirus or worried they have it, Mendez said he wanted to get out the information because it is “important.”

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He told viewers, “If you feel you have been exposed, stay home in quarantine for 14 days. If you have a fever, difficulty breathing, headache and coughing, then get yourself tested.”

If you’re “really, really sick” and have a fever of “96 degrees” and above, Mendez advised visiting the emergency room. All patients, whether insured, uninsured or undocumented, are welcome, he added.

“If you are sick, don’t be afraid to come to the ER. They’ll take care of you,” he said.

“I am getting questions from people getting into a panic,” he said. “The whole idea is to protect yourself, wash your hands, stay six feet away from people and if possible, stay home,” he said.

Mendez, who could not be reached for comment Saturday for clarification on the video, also added that he’s keeping his campaign office open to hand out N95 face masks to residents.

On Saturday, hospital spokeswoman Pamela Garretson said St. Joseph’s wanted to clarify “a couple of points made in the video.”

“If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19 (Coronavirus) you should CALL your primary care physician or urgent care. They will instruct you on what you should do based off of your symptoms and scenario. If you are having difficulty breathing you should call 9-1-1,” she wrote in an email.

“If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the operator that you have or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before medical help arrives,” Garretson said. Earlier this week Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott gave further directives to those residents that may need EMT support in the coming days and weeks.

Symptoms of coronavirus include: a fever (normal temperature is 98.6 F), cough and shortness of breath, she said.

Over the past two weeks, hospitals around the country have seen spikes in the number of patients who are worried they had been exposed to coronavirus. State and federal officials have said the increase in visits by patients who do not really need to be seen by an emergency room doctor has put an even greater strain on hospitals and put emergency rooms at – or above – capacity.

Locally, state and county officials are advising residents to contact their primary care doctors if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. People are also being told to stay home, self-isolate and take care of themselves until symptoms pass so they don’t expose others to the virus.

Garreston said St. Joseph’s “has maintained a regular volume of patients, including those with symptoms due to flu or other respiratory illnesses.”

St. Joseph’s Medical Center, whose director of emergency preparedness recently tested positive for coronavirus,  has said it is working with the Passaic County Health Department and New Jersey Department of Health, as well as federal public health agencies, on screening and treatment protocols “for the protection of our patients, visitors and staff.”

Locally, where 12 cases of the virus have been confirmed Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has put the city under lockdown, requiring “non-essential” businesses to close and prohibited local houses of worship to hold gatherings. 

Paterson’s State of Emergency also includes the closure of bars and nightclubs that do not serve food, go-go bars, libraries, city playgrounds, movie theaters, shopping malls, gyms, barber shops, nail salons, factories, liquor stores and non-urgent medical offices. 

Restaurants are allowed to remain open for take-out, delivery and drive-through. Grocery stores, markets, bodegas and pharmacies can also keep their doors open, according to Sayegh’s executive order.

As New Jersey continues its fight to limit the spread of COVID-19, local, county and state officials are doing their best to get information out about the pandemic. 

Murphy has held daily press conferences to update on New Jersey’s number of positive cases, restrictions and other need-to-know information, while Sayegh has given regular updates via social media.

Passaic County has also kept an up-to-date resource online containing advisories from the freeholders, county health department and county clerk regarding COVID-19.

According to the county’s health officer, Charlene Gungil, testing is only available to people experiencing coronavirus symptoms: fever of more than 100.4, coughing and shortness of breath.

“Testing can be done through medical providers,” she said in update online. “Contact your healthcare provider to see if you are eligible.”

Passaic County officials are in the process of setting up a coronavirus testing center at William Paterson University. The test will only be available to those who have received an electronic referral from their doctor.

On Friday, the state’s first mass-testing site opened at Bergen Community College in Paramus, where it reportedly administered more than 650 tests.

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