HEALTH

Capacity crowds at two coronavirus test sites force early closings

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Supervising physician Mark Merlin watched people drive through New Jersey’s second pop-up test site and get swabbed for the coronavirus at the PNC Bank Arts Center, just off Exit 116 on the Garden State Parkway. Such a crush of cars lined up that officials decided they’d hit capacity and closed off the entrance only a half-hour after the facility opened.

Another over-capacity crowd in Paramus caused the coronavirus test site at Bergen Community College to shut down early for the fourth day in a row. That, as the state topped 2,800 positive cases Monday.

“I’m sure we’ll have a reaction, ‘Oh, my lord, that’s a lot of positives.’ On the other hand, the more data we have at our disposal, the better and more equipped we are to be able to break the back of this virus. As we begin more rigorous collections statewide, we are in actuality getting a better and clearer sense of how far the coronavirus has already spread. We expect these numbers to continue to rise,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at his daily press briefing on Monday.

Both test sites showed what Murphy called a “pent-up demand” for testing as NJ residents self-isolate during the state lockdown that started Saturday night.

The state’s working to coordinate a patchwork of test results from hospitals, private and state labs. As the number of tests ramps up dramatically, New Jersey’s Homeland Security chief on Monday ordered the more than 60 private processing labs to directly report their COVID-19 test results to the state Department of Health.

Hospitals hope to stave off the anxiously-anticipated surge of patients.

“If people start coming to the ER in massed amounts, then the waits will be longer. We don’t want that. This is why having testing outside the emergency department grounds is a great idea,” Merlin said.

While people waited in line at the state’s two drive-through test sites, counties set up their own testing facilities that operate by appointment-only at Kean University for Union County and in Secaucus for Hudson County.

Hudson Regional Hospital became the county’s COVID-19 test site Monday with enough test kits and protective gear to handle 200 people a day.

“For now we have enough for the testing process. And we’re always looking for more because we want to continue to provide this valuable service to the community,” said Hudson Regional Hospital President and CEO Dr. Nizar Kifaieh.

People must be county residents and show symptoms like fever, coughing and shortness of breath. They also must first call for an appointment.

Hudson Executive Tom DeGise doesn’t want to copy the state drive-through model.

“We don’t want people to get in their car and drive here, wait in line for a good period of time, and then be told at the end of the line that we can’t help you,” DeGise said.

The objective remains to reduce stress on people and hospitals.