PASSAIC COUNTY, NJ – As COVID-19 continues to spread across New Jersey, law enforcement officers from throughout Passaic County are undergoing testing, officials said. In Passaic County – which now has more than 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases – officers are on the frontline of the pandemic and run the risk daily of exposure. 

John Welsh, president of PBA Local 197 – the union that represents Passaic County corrections officers – said his organization, along with PBA Local 286 (Passaic County Sheriff’s Office) and Wayne PBA 136 (Wayne Police), organized a drive-up testing site for officers at the Wayne Police Athletic League on Saturday morning.

“It’s all about coming together, for the safety of ourselves, our families and our officers,” Welsh said. Of the three unions’ 670 members, about 185 chose to be tested, he added.

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The initiative came just a week after all Paterson firefighters and police officers were to be tested. Kyle Hughes, president of FMBA Local 2, the union that represents Paterson's rank-and-file firefighters, also recently issued a plea to resident to adhere to state at home orders in an effort to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

About 10 percent of the officers tested were showing symptoms of coronavirus and have been under self-quarantine, Welsh told TAPinto Paterson. The other 90 percent chose to get tested voluntarily out of an abundance of caution.

Some officers also brought immediate family members for testing and a few police officers from Clifton underwent testing Saturday morning after arresting a suspect who was infected with COVID-19, Welsh said. 

For the screening site, the unions partnered with Doctors Steven and Salvatore Conte from Rochelle Park. Another testing day will be held in two weeks for local police. While results should be available within three to five days, Welsh suspects of the officers tested “a high number” will be diagnosed.

“Our number one responsibility is the safety, health and well being of our members and their families. PBA Locals 197 and 286 took it upon ourselves to ensure that this was done,” said Welsh.

Nearly 300 members of New Jersey’s law enforcement community have tested positive for COVID-19 and close to 2,500 have self-quarantined, Col. Patrick Callahan, acting State Police superintendent said last week. 

The testing comes as staff and inmates in jails across the country test positive for coronavirus and officials look to head off a possible outbreak behind bars. Within Passaic County Jail’s inmate population, Welsh said at least six prisoners have tested positive for COVID-10 and some inmates have been quarantined. More than 20 corrections officers also tested positive, he said.

Those officers, Welsh said, have told him they have minimal symptoms as of now.

“Headaches, fever, sweats, coughing. Some have had no symptoms at all, which is the main reason we’re putting this testing out. Officers may not have any symptoms and come to work, be around someone who is positive, and then go home, where their spouse or kid may have asthma or some other underlying condition, and infect them,” he said.

Last month, county jails across the state temporarily released nearly 700 low-level offenders – including 40 from Passaic County Jail – to help halt the spread of the virus as part of a state Supreme Court order. 

On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he plans to sign an executive order allowing the release of state prison inmates that are elderly or have a condition that puts them at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Prisoners convicted of murder, sexual assault or other serious crimes would not be eligible and those who are released will be confined at home, according to the governor.

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