Testing the vulnerable and most at-risk

Jacqui Farley has been testing North Bergen senior buildings amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Jacqui Farley test 106-year-old Aida Mercado.
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Jacqui Farley test 106-year-old Aida Mercado.

Frontline workers come in many different varieties. Some of these heroes include those testing the most at-risk residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jacqui Farley is a North Bergen Housing Authority employee who has been tasked with testing senior citizens within the township’s senior buildings.

Farley is the Social Services Coordinator and a nurse for the Housing Authority who was a major factor in the testing of seniors in the township.

North Bergen’s nursing homes have been hit hard by the virus, with a majority of local deaths involving residents of the facilities. As a result, the township has mandated the testing of all senior buildings in the township to catch any cases of COVID-19 before an outbreak occurs at one of the buildings.

Before the testing, Farley said she was mostly working from home. As tenants call, she transfers calls and aims to assist the tenants as much as she can.

“We’re just trying to help them, but it’s been very difficult,” Farley said.

This includes calling social services, Social Security, food stamps, and Medicaid, among other programs and helping tenants complete renewal applications. However, phone calls are now few and far between as many of these programs have shut down due to the pandemic. Farley noted that Social Security has stopped picking up the phone.

From her desk, Farley took up the township’s efforts to test all seniors entered the frontlines, suiting up in full proper protective equipment to conduct the testing.

The efforts were coordinated between the North Bergen Housing Director Gerald Sanzari in conjunction with Janet Castro, Director of the North Bergen Health Department.

Putting herself at risk for the most at-risk

Farley said she was more than happy to the test the seniors, continuing to help out the tenants living there. There are currently five senior buildings in the township, all of which completed testing by Monday, May 18.

The first building began testing on May 11, according to Farley. Of the first rounding of testing, approximately 80 percent of tenants were tested. And the results came back within a day or so.

Of those tested that round, only one resident came back positive. Farley said the resident was alerted right away by Director Castro. Thankfully, due to testing provided by frontline workers like Farley, the resident was able to catch the virus early and begin self-isolating.

Now contact tracing is underway to determine the resident’s interaction with others in the building. There have been no further positive cases in the buildings.

On the morning of May 18, Farley tested 106-year-old tenant Aida Mercado of Lawler Towers.

Throughout the testing, Farley said that the seniors were totally thankful for the assistance. Many of them have wanted to get tested but for one reason or another didn’t.

Now, many residents can have the peace of mind that they do not have COVID-19 for the time being, something that can be particularly stressing to the elderly as their the most at-risk group to contract and suffer serious consequences from the virus.

In addition to the round of testing at each building, Farley said the Housing Authority has been working to meet with seniors who couldn’t get tested after the fact.

In terms of an emotional impact, Farley said she feels bad that the seniors are scared from the virus and from being cooped up inside but was happy to get them the testing they needed despite the risks to her health.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.