Checking for ‘hot spots,’ Camden opens two new testing sites

Residents queued up Wednesday morning at a new COVID-19 testing site in Camden, one of two planned in Camden County amid the continuing rise here in both confirmed coronavirus infections and deaths.

In South Camden, the drive-thru, walk-up testing center that debuted Wednesday was offering a limited number of nasal swab tests to Camden County residents who show up with a doctor’s referral. A triage area has also been established for those without a referral, where they are checked by health care workers for symptoms.

Jackie Scott was among those in line.

“I love it because I’m so scared and paranoid,” said the Camden City resident, who showed up without a referral. “A lot of people need to come out and get tested because it’s right here in our community.”

With 785 cases reported in Camden city and a countywide death toll of 125, residents say they know the value of expanded COVID-19 testing, both to limit further spread of the disease and to start the process of restoring the economy.

“Everyone needs to come out and get this test done,” said Bonnie Johns who lives in the city. “Because it’s very important for us to reopen the state, and get the buildings back and everybody back to work.”

The theme was echoed by Camden County Freeholder Director Freeholder Louis Cappelli, Jr.

“Testing, testing, testing is the battleground for this virus,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we provide as much testing as possible for the residents of Camden City.”

A second site will open Tuesday in East Camden, where officials suspect there’s a big COVID-19 hot spot.

“We know we have a high population of undocumented individuals that don’t normally go to the hospitals to get checked,” said Mayor Frank Moran. “We’re excited about that opening. “

Cappelli also talked about the need to enhance testing in underserved areas.

“There are people who are undocumented immigrants who need to get tested and are afraid to go anywhere to get tested,” he said. “So we’re going to bring the testing to them.”

Virtua Health and Cooper University Health Care are sponsoring the two test sites, redeploying resources from their initial testing facility on the Camden City waterfront at Cooper’s Point. That site will close down on Friday.

“Although we did 1,500 tests, there’s still 70,000 people in Camden that need to be tested,” said Dr. Reginald Blaber, chief clinical officer at Virtua Health. “And Camden is a city of neighborhoods.”

But as tests remain in short supply, the sites can do just 100 tests apiece each day.

It’s an ongoing struggle, as New Jersey and the nation ramp up COVID-19 testing capacity as a first step before reopening the economy.

“You have 50 states and thousands of municipalities and counties fighting each other to get the same resources,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, the Democrat who represents the city and nearly all of Camden County in Congress. “This is a huge failure of our government. We need to do better.”

Reflecting the limited supply of test kits, those who are deemed asymptomatic at the new testing centers will be turned away, even though experts have learned that asymptomatic folks can still test positive and spread the disease.

Jackie Scott was among those who left disappointed Wednesday.

“They should have a different site for people that don’t have symptoms, just to be tested so they can feel comfortable with themselves,” she said.

The test sites will be open four to five days a week, until they’ve met the public demand for testing. Officials say that could be months away.