Latisha Williams and her two children were screened for the new coronavirus at the School 28 playground more than two weeks ago. She is still waiting for the three test results.
Williams is not alone. Other residents have experienced abnormal delays in receiving their test results, according to several City Council members.
613 people were tested at four testing sites on May 15, according to mayor Andre Sayegh. It’s not clear how many have yet to receive their results. Under 30 results, all negative, were reported into the state’s Communicable Disease Reporting and Surveillance System (CDRSS) as of Friday.
The severe delays are associated with Sunrise Diagnostics of Irvington which ran the four sites for a day. Officials from the firm had promised results would be reported within 24 to 72 hours.
“We had the results ready in 12 hours,” claimed Anwer Qureishi, managing director for Sunrise Diagnostics. City officials were slow to tell him where to report the results, he said. Williams’ test was conducted by his firm. When asked why the results were not reported into the CDRSS, he said, “The portal requires a doctor’s name.”
Qureishi said his firm is a laboratory and not a medical clinic. Test results do not have to be associated with a doctor for them to be reported into the state surveillance system, according to health officials.
“Clinical laboratories are required to report. If they are doing testing designed for a clinical purpose (as opposed to a strictly research lab), then they should be reporting into CDRSS,” said Dawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health.
Municipal officials cut ties with Sunrise Diagnostics because of staffing and operational problems at the sites. Officials then picked Steve Conte, a medical doctor who tested firefighters and police officers in early April, to run the sites.
Conte’s firm, Vestibular Diagnostic of Rochelle Park, also tested seniors citizens at six apartment buildings in Paterson. Screening were conducted from May 4-8. Irma Gorham, director of the Paterson Housing Authority, said 403 seniors were tested out of a population of 732. On May 18, Gorham said she had two positive results and was waiting for the rest.
Tests done by Conte’s firm typically yielded results in 3-5 days, said fire chief Brian McDermott. “It all depends on how busy the labs are. They are all swamped,” he said. Some of Conte’s results were reported nine days after the tests was conducted.
Last week, municipal officials said Conte’s firm is no longer running the city’s testing sites. The doctor decided he did not want to conduct tests for the city and bill the federal government directly for reimbursement, officials said.
Severe delays in reporting test results like those seen in Paterson are not normal.
“Turnaround time can vary, but overall it tends to average about 2-3 days in the state,” said the spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health.
“This is making people anxious,” said councilman Luis Velez. His constituents have called him to complain about not receiving results from the city’s testing sites, he said.
Health officer Paul Persaud confirmed there have been delays in testing sites reporting results.
Slow reporting of test results also impedes contact tracing aimed at slowing down the spread of the virus.
“Quick and accurate COVID-19 testing is essential to preventing small clusters of cases from becoming a surge of cases. Delays in processing tests or communicating test results delays contact tracing which means asymptomatic people may have more time to spread the virus without knowing they were exposed,” said Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven. “Testing delays also adds unnecessary isolation time while waiting for results which causes stress, delays return to work and other issues.”
Persaud said delays have been “negatively” impacting contact tracing. He is the head of a 55-person disease investigation and contact tracing team that has been touted as a model for other American cities struggling to contain the spread of the virus. His team has had success in curbing the spread of the virus in Paterson, a densely packed city of 150,000 people.
Paterson has the biggest outbreak in Passaic County. The city has 6,346 cases with 366 deaths. Daily new cases have been declining since the start of May. At the peak of the outbreak the city saw 200 new cases per day. On Sunday, the city reported 18 new cases
Persaud said some testing sites have been reporting promptly.
The Passaic County testing site at William Paterson University has been reporting results without delay. Richard Afanonja, a medical doctor, who began running a private testing site at the old Barnert Hospital in early May, has been quicker at reporting results. Some of his test results were being reported within 48 hours, but not all.
One man said he was screened at Afanonja’s testing site at John F. Kennedy High School on May 28. On June 1, he said he is still waiting on results.
Afanonja is now running the city’s testing sites.
Williams is still trying to get her and her children’s test results. The mayor’s office issued an alert on Friday urging residents, who were tested on May 15, to call Afanonja’s company, FastMed Urgent Care, to obtain their test results.
Williams said she called the phone number provided by the mayor’s office, but has not been able to get the three test results.
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Updated 9:09 a.m.