HEALTH

NJ adds more test sites and hospital rooms as COVID-19 surge looms

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Jimmy Ranalli got tested Wednesday at Passaic County’s new drive-through coronavirus test site — one of several state and county test sites now operating across New Jersey. The 47-year-old finance executive’s doctor told him to get tested.

“I had a fever. I went to CityMD. They said it wasn’t the flu and it was a viral infection,” he said.

“We declared a state of emergency, telling people to stay in their home, closing non-essential businesses, but the other component was the testing. Because we’ve got to identify who’s actually infected to keep them off the streets and at home, as well,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

One thousand test kits at the Passaic location, and thousands more at drive-thru sites in 10 New Jersey counties, come from BioReference, an Elmwood Park company. The company says it can turn around results in two to three days and sends that data to the state Department of Health.

“It gives them an idea in the certain counties where there may be hot spots,” said Dr. Jon Cohen, executive chair of BioReference Labs. “It will tell us what percentage of people are positive. By having that info it’s important because then they know where the hot spots are — relative to whether isolation is having an impact or not, or to make sure people are further isolated.”

That’s important as people across the state obey Gov. Phil Murphy’s lockdown order.

Mapping how the virus spreads will also help health officials plan hospital readiness against an expected surge of seriously ill patients. New York’s already building a thousand-bed FEMA field hospital at the Javits Center and hopes to double that.

The president promised New Jersey four FEMA field hospitals of 250 beds each. The first will open at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, within seven to eight days, perhaps sooner, according to officials. Then the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. After that, Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. Lt. Col. David Park of the Army Corps said the fourth site is also planned for the convention center in Edison.

New Jersey’s also renovating shuttered hospital facilities.

“Over the next several weeks our goal is to increase our capacity by 2,360,” Murphy said on Wednesday during his daily press briefing.

“One of the great challenges when you talk about a pandemic like this, is that it’s this slow-cresting tidal wave and it can be hard to see what’s coming a few days down the line. But what we’re seeing as these numbers come in day to day, statewide and in Passaic County, is that we’re still on that upwards curve,” said Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett.

New Jersey health officials are trying to model that curve to gauge how fast the virus will burn through the population and when cases might peak.

Passaic County’s got enough test kits to run drive through sites for three more days — 250 tests a day — as the state continues to chart the virus’s spread.