Paterson: Coronavirus Drive-Through Testing Site Adds Walk-Up Line


The debut of a coronavirus testing site came with confusion and chaos on this week as dozens of frustrated city residents stood waiting in line just a couple of feet apart.

By the afternoon, the process was running smoothly, with some people driving through the testing tent and others getting checked through a walk-up line in which most folks were 6 feet apart.

Organizers had planned to operate a drive-thru test site at the former Barnert Hospital building, but people started forming a walk-up line at 7 a.m., about two hours before the testing was supposed to begin. To make matters worse, the main line had formed in the wrong spot: at the building’s side entrance instead of in a parking lot across the street.

When word spread about the correct location, people rushed across the street and formed a new line.

“They were unprepared,” said one woman in the line, Judy Jones. “They should have been out here early setting things up.”

“You’ve got people in line who are probably already sick and they ain’t even six 6 feet apart,” said Brendolyn McDowell, who brought her 86-year-old father to be tested.

Staff members who were assisting with the testing urged the folks to spread out to 6 feet apart. Gradually, the amount of space between people increased, but rarely did it comply with social-distancing guidelines.

Pedro Gonzalez had been one of the first people in line, but he lost his place when the line was moved. “The people who were in the back are in the front now,” Gonzalez said. “That isn’t right.”

Mayor Andre Sayegh drove by the scene just before the testing was supposed to begin and witnessed the problems. “I deployed fire and police to step in,” the mayor said. “They’re working the kinks out, but they should have been better prepared.”

Dr. Richards Afonja, the urgent care physician who accompanied the mayor for the announcement of the testing last week, said the problems stemmed from people who hadn’t paid attention to the fact that the testing was supposed to be drive-thru. The doctor said some of the people who came to be tested didn’t have cars.

Eventually, organizers set up a two-pronged queue, with some folks waiting in their vehicles for drive-thru testing while other stood in line for walk-up testing.

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