TRENTON — New Jersey is working to make COVID-19 testing more widespread and more mobile, in order to reach some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

On Monday, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli briefly outlined ongoing plans to expand testing to include asymptomatic residents and staff at long-term care facilities, veteran living facilities and homes for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Persichilli said the state also is working with employers that hire seasonal workers — as roughly 12-15,000 people are expected to come help for the upcoming summer months at South Jersey farms.

She said the goal is to ensure they have full testing in coordination with New Jersey’s Federally Qualified Health Centers, which deliver health care regardless of patient's ability to pay.

Mobile testing was being planned for "inner-city populations that do not have access to drive-thru or walk-up" sites, by sending vans into such communities, Persichilli said. She said the highest priority for that testing would be residents not yet showing symptoms of COVID-19, but who had close contact with known positive patients.

Among the first municipalities to offer more widespread testing is Jersey City, where Mayor Steven Fulop announced increased efforts to offer COVID-19 testing to all city residents starting this week, even for those not showing any symptoms.

Fulop also said on Twitter that "the city is putting its most vulnerable communities and front-line workers on regular testing rotations to both keep them safe and also to identify potential larger clusters earlier."

As previously announced May 1, the state Department of Corrections is beginning universal testing for prisoners, corrections officers and other staff in partnership with Rutgers University Correctional Healthcare and Accurate Diagnostics Lab.

“From the outset of the pandemic, our goal at Rutgers has been to use the full breadth of our research capabilities in service of the state,” Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom said in a written statement.

Strom continued: “Rutgers and New Jersey have made tremendous strides with respect to testing and I believe the saliva-based test developed by RUCDR and Rutgers-New Brunswick is a linchpin to a health and economic recovery."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its testing recommendations Sunday to include as high priority "persons without symptoms who come from racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by adverse COVID-19 outcomes — currently African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, some American Indian tribes (e.g., Navajo Nation)." New Jersey, like most areas, has seen greater fatality rates among black patients than white patients, proportionately.

The CDC also revised COVID-19 testing guidelines to include asymptomatic people who are considered high priority by health departments or clinicians. That priority could be based on underlying medical condition or disability, living in a setting such as a homeless shelter or long-term care facility, or other state and local plans, the guidelines said.

As of Monday, New Jersey had 248,319 total tests reported, with an average of 40% positivity, according to the state's COVID-19 data. The vast majority of tests given so far were to people showing symptoms.

More than 90% of test results received are performed by "major laboratories," according to the state.

“Absent a vaccine or treatment, testing is currently one of the few proven effective ways to slow and track the spread of this virus, which is why we’ve taken the initiative to be aggressive in our approach to protect our residents,” Fulop said in a written release.

Jersey City also announced plans to become one of the first communities to offer antibody testing.

Fulop said in the same release "antibody tests are key identifiers that health experts say will enable healthcare workers, first responders, city employees, and residents return to work, to their families, or to take care of loved ones in need."

However, public health officials have stressed it's not yet known what degree of protection antibodies to COVID-19 may provide, and how easily a patient may become re-infected.

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