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Hoboken continues coronavirus preparations

Testing expands and positive cases increase

Hoboken residents can now get tested for the coronavirus free of charge as Hoboken continues to address the ever-changing landscape of the "new normal."

Hoboken now has access to roughly 1,000 coronavirus test kits after the City Council unanimously passed a resolution approving a $50,000 contract with Bio-Reference Labs.

The new kits allow Riverside Medical Center’s test site to test Hoboken residents regardless of whether or not they are Riverside Medical Center patients.

So far, the facility under the 14th Street viaduct has tested nearly 640 previously registered patients, 60 percent of whom have tested positive, according to Hoboken’s Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini.

All residents welcome

Any Hoboken resident with symptoms of COVID-19 is now eligible to receive a test through the existing Riverside Medical Center testing center.

Residents with symptoms of COVID-19 must call 201-420-5621 in advance to schedule an appointment. No walk-in testing will be permitted.

The calls will be fielded at City Hall by Hoboken’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) beginning between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the same days the testing center is open.

“I’m very glad that in partnership with Riverside Medical, we are now opening up testing to Hoboken residents,” said Mayor Bhalla. “Any Hoboken resident who is symptomatic now has the peace of mind that testing is now available. I’m extremely grateful to Riverside Medical for working with us on making this available to Hoboken, and especially to Dr. Gaurang Brahmbhat for expanding his services to help protect our residents.”

The testing center will be open to Hoboken residents only, with proof of a utility bill or driver’s license required.

Anyone without symptoms will not be eligible for the free test.

If a resident’s insurance does not pay for the test, the city will pick up the $50 tab per testing kit.

Once an appointment is secured, the resident can either have the testing done through a drive-through with a vehicle, or through a walk-in station

“The City Council is happy to see additional testing being made available to Hoboken residents,” said Council President Jen Giattino. “We all have learned the importance of additional testing to slowing down this virus.”

“We’ve been trying to work on this for a couple of weeks now, but obviously finding testing kits has been the most difficult thing,” said Councilman Ruben Ramos who sponsored the resolution for the contract along with Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.

He said the goal is for the city to be reimbursed through grants from FEMA.

“That’s the goal, but you can’t put a number on this at the end of the day,” Ramos said. “We have to provide for the health of our residents and our community.”

Testing positive

As of April 2, Hoboken has 152 positive cases and two people have died, including Carmen Rivera, mother of Hoboken Police Detectives John and Fabien Quinones, and an unidentified 79-year-old resident.

The Hoboken Health Department continues to monitor all individuals testing positive and instructing all those in contact with them to self-quarantine.

According to Pellegrini, as of April 1, 22 residents who were infected have fully recovered.

“That doesn’t mean the rest aren’t recovering, they are in recovery mode, but until you have no symptoms, that’s when you are considered fully recovered and off the checklist,” said Pellegrini, noting that most residents are recovering at home in quarantine.

Pellegrini said as of April 1, Hoboken University Medical Center had a total of 71 patients being treated for COVID-19 and 22 patients on ventilators but that the hospital treats people from all over Hudson County, so the majority of patients were not Hoboken residents. The hospital says four or five Hoboken residents were hospitalized with the virus.

Protecting seniors

After Hoboken’s first unnamed senior citizen died, members of the city council questioned how the city would protect this vulnerable population from becoming infected, during its April. 1 meeting.

Ramos asked if the city begins to see the virus spread within senior buildings, how would the city respond, considering that due to HIPPA regulations, the health department is not permitted to identify building tenants of an infected individual within his or her building.

Pellegrini said the city took a lot of proactive measures early on, such as discontinuing senior programming at the multi-service center, closing community rooms in the Hoboken Housing Authority and private senior buildings, and discouraging congregating of any kind.

He said the department also recommends that seniors have someone else shop for them so as to not expose themselves unnecessarily to the virus. They should stay home and self-isolate.

Fisher suggested the city consider creating an evacuation plan or lockdown play to help keep them safe should the need arise. There are more than 2,000 seniors in at least 15 buildings.

“It feels like we as a city should have a plan, whether its a quarantine plan or bringing additional resources to monitor these buildings and make sure residents aren’t coming into lobbies and congregating … I don’t feel the city is doing enough to address what’s potentially a risk,” Fisher said.

Ramose suggested the city look at using hotels to keep seniors who are healthy away from others who are infected in their buildings.

“This needs be at the front of our minds,” he said.

Thanking first responders

Fire Chief Brian Crimmins addressed the council discussing the needs of his department to protect first responders.

“I want to begin tonight by thanking every member of the Hoboken Fire Department for your hard work, dedication, and bravery during this crisis,” Crimmins said. “Thank you for taking an oath of office to protect your community. Thank you for responding to medical calls, for reusing N95 masks, for knowingly and selflessly exposing yourself to COVID-19. Thank you for coming to work despite pending layoffs and demotions. Thank you telling me how concerned you are about potentially bringing the virus home to your families. Thank you for staying home when you’re sick, for getting quarantined, tested, and self-isolated.”

He said one issue is that the department does not receive a notification as to where positive COVID-19 patients live, making it difficult for first responders to be prepared.

Currently, this information is released to the police department but not fire departments or EMS across the state.

Because of this, the fire department routinely has to contact the police department to get the information while enroute to respond.

He sent a letter to the state urging that fire departments be included in the release of addresses.

He said the department is taking precautions to protect residents and themselves, following revised directives and cleaning and disinfecting firehouses and equipment regularly.

He had only three requests of the public: don’t call 911 unless it is a real emergency, tell the dispatcher if you are COVID positive or have flu-like symptoms, and check on friends and neighbors during this crisis, as “many of our neighbors are suffering from anxiety and depression.”

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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