WAYNE, NJ – For the past three months, Passaic County ran a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at William Paterson University.  The last day of testing at that site was on June 20. Since then, the County has been offering at-home, self-administered tests through the mail, and they’ve picked up and taken their testing site mobile to bring it to different areas in the county. On Thursday, they were back in Wayne, but this time at the Willowbrook Mall.

"We’re proud to host the Passaic County complimentary COVID-19 mobile testing site," said Nancy Barbary, the Senior General Manager of the Willowbrook Mall. "The well-being of our community is our highest priority, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to assist in this effort.”

Dr. Charlene Gungil is the Passaic County Health Officer and the Director of the County Health Department.  She has been in charge of the county testing since it all began in late March.

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“At the peak, we were testing over 600 per day at William Paterson University and on that last Saturday before we left, we did 124.

The demand was falling for testing in Wayne, so the County made the decision to take the testing on the road. “We decided to go into the communities where the people are and make it easier for other residents of the County who could not get to William Paterson,” explained Dr. Gungil.

Earlier in June, they took the testing to Clifton, West Milford, Hawthorne and Ringwood. Little Falls is the next stop on June 29 with Paterson, Haledon and Pompton Lakes scheduled for early July. The complete schedule can be found here.

Each day’s testing runs from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the mobile testing sites have been averaging over 450 tests per day. “Yesterday we were in Ringwood and we did 491 tests,” Dr. Gungil said.

There is no need to pre-register to get tested at the mobile testing sites.  Registration can happen beforehand online, through an app, but walk-ups are welcomed.

At the William Paterson testing site, the collection was done using a nasopharyngeal swab to collect nasal secretions from the back of the nasal passages. At the mobile testing sites, they are using a saliva test that was approved through Rutgers university. 

Jenny Bernardo is a healthcare worker in a local nursing facility, so she must be tested every two weeks.  This is her first time at a mobile testing site but her fourth time being tested for COVID-19.  In the past, she has only been tested at William Paterson.

Which test did she like better?  “Well, this one was more comfortable and was a lot less invasive, but you really have to produce a lot of saliva,” she said with a laugh.

Patients must sit for some time to produce saliva and ‘spit’ it into a collection tube, filling it to a certain level.

“It was very quick. Everyone here was very accommodating and very nice,” Bernardo said of her experience here.

Kaedi Soto said she was close to a couple of people who recently had COVID. “I just want to see for myself,” she told TAPinto. Soto pre-registered through the Passaic County website and showed up at the testing site. “The process was really easy, and it went pretty fast, maybe 15 minutes at the most.”

Pamela Valer came “to protect my family,” she said.  She wasn’t feeling sick, but her whole family had been tested already. She was a walk-up, coming without registering and took advantage of the convenience of the mobile testing site. 

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TAPinto asked the Passaic County Health Officer where the County is in the outbreak.

“We are at a lull,” she replied.  “From my experience, when you have an outbreak you always have a second wave. The second wave is usually smaller. What we have done with flattening the curve, is we have extended the first wave. Which means we are going to have the same number of cases approximately, but they are spread out more over time so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system. Because that first wave was elongated, our second one, which might be smaller, is going to be further down the road.”

“Everybody knows what the health care system is doing, but people don't see what Public Health is doing,” said Dr. Gungil. “Public Health has been working day and night. We have basically turned our workforce into a contact-tracing workforce. All of us have done that.”

When a patient comes back with a positive result, the Public Health departments of the County and of the individual towns, like Wayne, must then investigate where the patient has been, who the patient has been in contact with and must then reach out to these people and ask them to get tested and to go into quarantine. This is how the County is working to slow the spread of the virus.  With over 16,000 positive results in Passaic County, these Public Health departments have been overwhelmed for months doing what they have to do to keep the rest of us safe.

“They are the unsung heroes,” said Dr. Gungil.

She concluded by adding: “With the partnership of these Public Health departments; with information, with knowledge and with science, we have been able to manage in Passaic County and I think that's a great thing, and it’s really why we have seen the numbers in Passaic County going down.”