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Paterson preparing to ramp up Covid-19 testing ahead of possible cold season ‘surge’ in cases

Municipal officials are preparing to ramp up testing for a possible “surge” in Covid-19 cases ahead of the approaching cold season.

The City Council approved approximately $843,000 to fund the plan to ramp up testing using a mobile unit. A $750,000 contract was awarded to LabCorp and another $30,000 contract was awarded to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for coronavirus testing on Tuesday. Staffing cost for the mobile unit is $63,400, according to a plan presented to the council.

“If there’s a surge in cases in the fall, we have to be prepared,” health officer Paul Persuad told the City Council, which also serves as the Board of Health, last week. He said testing and isolating people are the only tools available to contain a possible surge in case.

Paterson has registered 344 deaths from Covid-19. On Tuesday, the city reported 9 new infections.

Presently, Persaud’s contact tracing team, cited as a national model, has to refer people for testing to other entities. Under the new plan, the Division of Health will administer the tests directly to residents.

The mobile testing unit will take testing to various parts of Paterson. A key aim is to identify asymptomatic cases within the community. The mobile unit will also handle testing during non-traditional hours.

“There’s more testing that needs to be done,” said councilwoman Ruby Cotton, who lost her husband Ed Cotton to the virus in April.

Mayor Andre Sayegh had announced the mobile testing plan in May, before other cities or counties put together their mobile testing efforts.

“Why wasn’t this done earlier? We’ve been six months with this pandemic,” asked councilwoman Maritza Davila last week.

Davila never received a concrete answer.

Sayegh’s administration was too slow in obtaining proposals and did not exercise emergency powers to award the needed contracts to get mobile testing going.

“The county came in and they said they are going to do testing. After that we focused heavily on disease investigation and contact tracing,” said Persaud in response to Davila’s question last week. “Our focus during those months was mostly on disease investigation and tracing.”

Council members have viewed the mayor’s handling of the pandemic as a failure. He couldn’t get widespread testing going in the early days of the pandemic for residents. He put together an informal task force of his cabinet members, none of whom had any public health experience, that couldn’t provide basic information to the public about the spread of the virus in the city in the early days of the pandemic. One of them provided bizarre advice to people to avoid contracting the virus. But lately the mayor has been sharing an alternative narrative about his performance by citing two New York Times stores, one featured emergency medical technicians in hazmat suits responding to 911 calls and another featured the contact tracing team.

Sayegh had private doctors set up testing sites in May, long after cases peaked in Paterson.

Councilman Michael Jackson said residents did not have adequate access to testing in the early months of the pandemic. He said he contracted Covid-19 and went to Pompton Lakes to get tested.

The lab is charging $100 per nasal swab test, Persaud told the council.

Mobile testing is expected to begin in the first week of October, said business administrator Kathleen Long.

“We’re getting ready for a second wave. We’re fighting the war before going into it,” added councilman Luis Velez.

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