Paterson’s coronavirus testing woes continue. Third company picked to run testing sites. | Paterson Times Paterson Times

Paterson’s coronavirus testing woes continue. Third company picked to run testing sites.

By Jayed Rahman
Published: May 27, 2020

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Running coronavirus testing sites for residents has been a struggle for mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration. Over the past two weeks, the city has changed two companies that were running the four test sites. A third company recently took over operations of the four sites, officials revealed on Tuesday night.

“Testing is one piece of the puzzle and we’re not getting it right,” said business administrator Kathleen Long as the administration came under a barrage of criticism from City Council members.

Long said the city has been tweaking its testing strategy over the past weeks to get it right.

Members of the City Council expressed frustration at the many problems that have plagued virus testing in Paterson.

“They are switching doctors but we’re not being informed,” said council president Maritza Davila. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job administering it.”

Davila said she and her colleagues were not aware the second firm, Vestibular Diagnostic, run by Steve Conte, is no longer running the four test sites.

“I thought things were going great,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz. “I don’t like this. This doesn’t taste good. It doesn’t look good. It looks like down the line we’re going to be coming back to this and seeing something is awry. When you change two doctors in a week something is awry.”

Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms said some residents have complained they are still waiting for results of tests administered by the first firm more than two weeks ago. Davila said some people were tested 8-9 days ago and have not received results.

“That is unacceptable,” said Mimms. “We have to do better. We have to get it together.”

Conte’s firm came to the rescue after the city’s rough experience with Sunrise Diagnostic of Irvington, officials said. The business administrator said test providers can directly obtain funding from the federal government. She said Conte’s firm is not directly applying for federal Cares Act reimbursements for administering the free tests.

Now, the testing sites are run by Richard Afanonja of FastMed Urgent Care. Afanonja opened the first non-governmental testing site at the old Barnert Hospital in early May.

Davila said the change hasn’t gone well. She said a person at the John F. Kennedy High School testing site was using bags for gloves while administering tests on Tuesday.

Fire chief Brian McDermott said that was one “irresponsible” person. He said she was removed.

Several council members complained the mayor has not been keeping them informed of the changes. Some raised questions about vetting the companies. It was not clear who in the administration reviewed proposals from the doctors.

Councilman Michael Jackson said there’s “night and day” difference between the sites being run in Paterson and the one run by the Passaic County government in Wayne.

But the first firm, Sunrise, was suggested by Jackson.

The mayor’s chief of staff Della Fischer said she was under the impression Jackson wanted the administration to consider Sunrise. Indeed, Jackson had a representative of the firm attend a Board of Health meeting to pitch the firm’s testing plan.

Fischer was briefly in charge of overseeing the testing sites when Sunrise ran them.

Sayegh is attempting to resolve the city’s testing issues. He mentioned two promising initiatives on Wednesday morning.

“We have six testing sites in operation and will be announcing a joint partnership with St. Joe’s very soon,” said the mayor. “We are also working on a plan for a mobile testing unit.”

The mobile testing unit which will take testing to neighborhood residents will be the first purely government-run testing operation. Health officer Paul Persaud, who has received praise for his contact tracing efforts, will be overseeing the mobile testing unit.

Paterson has 6,191 infections with 309 deaths. However, the number of daily cases have been declining since the start of May. The daily three-day average stood at 21 on Tuesday.

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