Can New Jersey test enough people to reopen?

We took a trip to the FEMA test site in Paramus so I could get a nose swab for COVID-19. Health care workers hand over the self-swab in a cup and advised doing two circular motions inside one nostril, counting to 15 and then repeating on the other side.

I’m asymptomatic, but curious after covering COVID-19 news stories for months. NJTV News photographer Matt Rosenalso got tested at a Rite-Aid Wednesday. We’re just two more as New Jersey strives to expand its daily testing for the coronavirus to goals established by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“Our capacity to get people tested is now almost exploding,” Murphy said at his daily press briefing on Thursday. “Go out and get tested. The more data we have, the more confidence we have that it’s time to move forward. We were back above 20,000 tests, as I think I alluded to this off the cuff yesterday, recorded on Tuesday. […] We’ve worked really hard to get our testing program to where it needs to be,” Murphy said.

Murphy set a benchmark of 20,000 daily tests by the end of May. It’s just one of several goals the state must achieve before proceeding to Phase Two of an economic reboot. The testing benchmark for June is even higher at more than 30,000 a day, according to New Jersey’s Department of Health . But it will ultimately depend on caseloads and hospitalizations.

“In terms of finding that sweet spot, we’re looking at the predictive modeling and the trajectory of disease spread in New Jersey to really get to that internal goal,” said Kaitlyn Woolford, the state Department of Health’s lead on testing expansion.

To help New Jersey reach its testing benchmark, the FEMA test sites in Paramus and Holmdel will stay open through the month of June. More pharmacies are coming on board also.

CVS on Friday will offer drive-up testing at 45 stores around the state. Walmart’s adding sites as well, bringing the total number of retail, community, county and state test sites to 208. State health officials say they’ve given thousands of test kits to long-term care facilities, which were supposed to test all residents and staff by May 26. Overall, the state’s done more than 685,000 tests.

“So our goal by the end of June is to have tested 700,000 to 900,000 residents,” Woolford said. “We would need to get to a positivity rate between 3 and 12%. In order to do that we would need to test asymptomatic individuals.”

Quest has launched a Workforce Testing Service to help guide New Jersey businesses as they reopen. That includes temperature scans, blood draws and tests for both the virus and antibodies. One Rutgers expert says people will want tests as the virus plays out.

“As we open things up, the number of cases, and therefore the number of deaths, is going to go back up and people will want to understand what their status is. You know, where they exposed, are they infected, can they go back to work, is somebody at work dangerous for them — these are very real questions,” said Dr. Martin Blaser, Director of the Center for Advance Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers.

Rutgers developed a fast and accurate saliva test for the virus that’s now widely used. It just announced a new, cheaper transport medium — the fluid inside the test vials where you place swabs after rubbing them inside your nose. We’ll get results in three to five days. It’s all aimed at generating the data required to safely reopen New Jersey.

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