Just days after Paterson logged its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration scaled back the city’s testing program.
Testing has been reduced from six days a week to just two days. Sayegh’s decision was implemented over the weekend. Testing by the Division of Health is now being conducted on Saturdays and Wednesdays, according to a schedule released on December 30.
Sayegh cited lack of money and expiration of federal Cares Act funds. Test kits were purchased using federal funds. His decision was roundly condemned by members of the City Council last week.
Council president Flavio Rivera publicly urged Sayegh to continue the testing program as before until the Board of Health meets to discuss the matter on Tuesday. Sayegh did not oblige and implemented the cuts on January 2.
Health officer Paul Persaud recommended against reducing testing last week. He has said the city needs more testing not less.
Sayegh said there’s ample testing in Paterson being done by private providers. Some of the private providers, particularly those Sayegh has partnered with, have come under criticism for failing to provide test results on a timely basis.
Paterson runs two testing initiatives. A mobile testing program run by the Division of Health and a non-governmental program overseen by the fire chief. Sayegh handpicked some doctors, including his own personal doctor, to run testing sites under the city’s banner.
Councilman Shahin Khalique called the performance of one non-governmental site a “disgrace” last week. In some cases, residents did not get their results a week after getting tested, according to councilman Alex Mendez.
The city’s mobile testing program is unique for targeting various neighborhoods to increase access to testing for residents. Sayegh’s move reduces access to testing for impoverished residents.
Sayegh’s critics have said his response to the pandemic has been severely deficient. He has cited two New York Times stories about the city’s response to the pandemic to claim he has mounted an adequate response. However, none of those stories evaluated his performance in handling of the pandemic.
Sayegh did not set up testing in March 2020, when the pandemic struck, despite recommendation from his health officials. He unveiled his first testing partnership in May, long after the pandemic’s first wave had peaked. At one point in May, Sayegh hired a firm, without proper vetting, to run four testing sites for residents. Half of the sites were closed after the company failed to deliver.
Sayegh administration officials admitted they were struggling with getting testing going. Sayegh seemed to find a solution with the Division of Health’s mobile testing program in October of last year.
Paterson logged 434 new cases last Monday, setting a new record. 370 people have died of Covid-19 in Paterson. Health experts expect Covid-19 cases and deaths to increase in January.
A Board of Health meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss Sayegh’s scaling back of the testing program.
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