Mayor Andre Sayegh has reversed his decision, widely viewed as ill-conceived amid a raging pandemic, to scale back the city’s Covid-19 testing program.
Sayegh had unilaterally, without consulting the Board of Health, reduced Covid-19 testing from six days to two days a week. He had said the cuts were prompted by the expiration of Cares Act funding.
Business administrator Kathleen Long on Tuesday night told council members testing will resume six days a week beginning on Wednesday.
Sayegh faced backlash from the City Council, which also serves as the Board of Health, for his decision to reduce testing.
Some council members continued their criticism on Tuesday night.
Councilmen Michael Jackson and Alex Mendez called the mayor’s move to reduce testing “irresponsible.”
“The damage is already done. It’s been a week,” said Mendez. “He’s not taking into account the wellbeing and safety of our community.” He suggested Sayegh dropped the ball by failing to restore testing after last week’s emergency meeting of the Board of Health.
At that meeting last week it was revealed the city would not have to pay for tests. LabCorp was willing to bill insurance for those with coverage and the federal government for those without. Staffing to run mobile testing required under $10,000 per week in expenses beyond usual salaries for city employees.
Sayegh dismissed both council members’ criticism on Wednesday morning.
“I think we did the responsible thing,” said Sayegh. He said he did not want to build up a budget deficit.
Council president Flavio Rivera told the Sayegh administration to resume testing at last Tuesday’s meeting. If Sayegh stopped hiring new people and cut spending, the city would have money to fund testing, he said last night.
Resident David Soo suggested reducing the mayor’s $119,000 salary by half to produce funds to support testing.
“I think some action needs to be taken to punctuate what I consider to be gross irresponsibility on the part of the mayor and the administration,” said Soo. He said the administration did not adequately plan the next step once grant funding ran out. “To reduce the amount of testing to two days a week against the recommendation of your health department director and common sense is grossly irresponsible.”
Soo pointed out Anthony Fauci, head of the federal National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned Americans to prepare for a tough January. Fauci had said, “We believe things will get worse as we get into January.”
Sayegh said even the Passaic County government has scaled back its testing program.
“There’s widespread testing in Paterson,” said Sayegh.
Sayegh struck partnerships with several doctors who ran non-governmental testing sites under the city’s banner. The non-governmental sites have been criticized for poor customer service and delayed test results.
The city’s mobile testing program is unique for targeting various neighborhoods to increase access to testing for residents.
The Sayegh administration scaled back testing 14 days ago.
Paterson has been hit hard by the pandemic. 443 residents have died of Covid-19.
Email: [email protected]