Covid Testing Truck
Covid Testing Truck

As the end-of-year holidays approached, many Jersey City residents rushed to get tested for Covid-19 before joining family celebrations or job-related assignments. Or perhaps they were just nervous about Omicron’s contagiousness.

For a few, getting tested and learning the results went smoothly; for many others, however, the process was frustrating at best, useless at worst.

Permit me to offer up my own odyssey toward the still-elusive goal of getting from point A (the test) to point B (the results).

Since I live within easy walking distance of Journal Square where, I learned from Jersey City’s website, I’d find one of several city-sponsored rapid testing sites, I proceeded to hike over one afternoon last week.

Reaching my designation, I found myself at the back of a line of perhaps 25 people waiting patiently, unprotected against the elements, and in the cold (mid-30s with a biting wind) to be called into a small trailer staffed by a single technician.

The staffer — herself unprotected from the elements since the trailer door remained open — was tasked with checking each client’s ID and health insurance, feeding the data into a computer, and then preparing and administering a nasal swab for the client.

After spending about an hour in the line and having moved ahead only minimally while my body ached and my feet became numb, I reluctantly gave up and headed home.

The next day, resolved to be more steadfast, I returned to the trailer site. This time I arrived about 45 minutes after it opened and was the 15th or so person in line.

Weather conditions were much the same, and one couple ahead of me was periodically dancing, first together, then stamping separately, in an effort to stay warm.  I tried not to think of the elements and to just focus on achieving my goal.

Remarkably, no one in line cursed out the city or griped to the lone trailer staffer (the same person as the day prior) about having to stand in the freezing cold although one woman wondered why no one had considered at least accommodations for the elderly or infirm.

While we were waiting, a man suddenly approached the line and invited us to come with him to a nearby location to get tested right away. When asked to produce some form of official ID, he said he had none, producing only his driver’s license and a business card for a tax accounting business he claimed to run.

The city’s web Covid-19 web page warns residents against just such potentially fraudulent “pop-up” testing sites (and recommends anyone suspicious about such sites to call Health & Human Services).

Meanwhile, our line was moving forward. Slowly but, nonetheless, moving. That was good enough for me.

But something was awry. Yes, a posting outside the trailer which, the day before, had promised test results within 24 hours was gone. And, after about an hour’s wait, when I finally reached the trailer door for my swab, I learned why:  The lab contracted to perform the analysis was now taking 72 hours to process each swab, and now the results would be mailed to me, the technician told me.

Seems that the lab staff had been overwhelmed by the volume of samples being sent them, the technician said.

Fair enough, I supposed.  And, with that, home I trudged.

Today will mark my seventh day of waiting for those findings which, if they come at all, will be hopelessly out of date.

I called Jersey City’s Health & Human Services Department to ask about the situation and was routed to the “Covid crisis manager,” who promptly told me I wasn’t alone in reporting a lag time but said it was out of the city’s hands and that only the lab itself, run by Prestige Health, could advise me.

So, I called them, got connected to a recorded voice which prompted me to “press 3” to speak to someone about “COVID-related issues” and was promptly disconnected.  Several repeated efforts on different days all ended the same way.

What to do? Try another of the city-sanctioned testing sites, suggested my city contact. Or, he said, try an independent tester or get a home testing unit.

So far, I’m waiting it out. And so are many of my neighbors.

On NextDoor, two people ‑ Johann Lamrissi, of the Powerhouse Arts Distric, Gigi Gazon, of Bergen-Lafayete — said they waited 11 days to get results from a free outdoor testing site on Grove Street.

Kim Powell, of Van Vorst Park, griped about her experience using a “pop-up” testing place near the Acme market by the Holland Tunnel. After “waiting for hours,” she said she paid for a rapid test, the results of which she was still waiting for 19 hours later.

Jersey City residents experiencing delays are not alone. It’s a problem throughout the metro area.

Aware of the problem, Health & Human Services Director Stacey Flanagan and Maryanne Kelleher, director of Partnership for a Healthier JC, said the city is taking these steps:

  • Working with Fusion Labs to extend hours to 6:30 p.m. for Covid testing at the Bethune Center, 140 Martin Luther King Drive, on Dec. 29 and 30.
  • Arranging for Fusion Labs to add staff and “enhanced intake technology” at the Bethune Center, at the city’s Public Safety headquarters on Marin Boulevard, at 546 West Side Ave., and 725 Rt. 440.
  • Adding three walk-in testing sites, through Dec. 30 only, for persons ages 3 and up. These are: the Maureen Collier Senior Center, 335 Bergen Ave., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the Joseph Connors Senior Center, 28 Paterson St., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Public School 26, 164 Laidlaw Ave., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Turnaround time for results is “ASAP but may be impacted by demand.” A PCR test will be administered via Alliance Labs.

Meanwhile, Hudson County, in partnership with the state, announced it has opened two new vaccination sites: one in the multipurpose center in Stephen R. Gregg Park in Bayonne and the other in the boathouse in Braddock Park in North Bergen. The Gregg Park site will be open Thursday through Saturday, 2 to 7 p.m.; Braddock’s hours will be Sunday through Tuesday, also 2 to 7 p.m. In addition, the county is still offering free vaccines and boosters continue at its drive-thru center in Kearny.

The New Jersey Department of Health says testing is available at more than 100 sites statewide. Or, to order a free test kit, DOH recommends visiting Vault Health, where results are reportedly available 24 to 48 hours after a sample arrives at a lab.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...