David Levinsky @davidlevinsky

Monday

May 18, 2020 at 12:02 PM

The county’s expansion to testing residents without symptoms coincides with Gov. Phil Murphy’s moves to gradually begin lifting some of the social-distancing restrictions put in place in March at the start of the outbreak.

WESTAMPTON — Burlington County is preparing to expand its coronavirus testing program to residents without symptoms.

The county Health Department made an internal announcement to municipalities, first responders and other health officials about its plan to begin testing asymptomatic patients at its Westampton site. An announcement to the general public was expected later Monday.

The department’s internal notice said the change was intended to get people tested “as soon as possible” in order to further limit the spread of coronavirus. Residents will still be required to make appointments through the county’s testing hotline, but they will now be given an appointment regardless of whether they have symptoms of viral infection.

Test samples are taken via a drive-thru site set at the county Emergency Services complex off Woodlane Road. The site is typically open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is staffed by Health Department officials, plus volunteers, including professional nurses and nursing students. Officers from the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department and Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office also assist with security and traffic control.

Testing remains free-of-charge but is reserved for Burlington County residents, plus health care workers and first responders who work in the county. To make an appointment, call 609-726-7097.

To date, 3,285 people have been tested at the county test site. Typically, between 200 and 250 people are tested at the site each day it is open. However, last week testing totals slipped to 192 people were tested on Thursday, down from 232 tested on Tuesday.

The daily number of new positive cases of coronavirus infection in Burlington County has also decreased, a possible indicator of a slowdown in the pathogen’s spread.

On Monday, the county also announced a new virus-related app that can be downloaded for free, officials said. They said it would assist users with COVID-19 information, health resources and related social determinants of health.

Officials said it is the first of its kind for a New Jersey health department. After downloading the app to a smartphone, users can receive up-to-the-minute notifications on emergency issues from the health department, and stay alerted to other information.

“As part of Burlington County’s commitment to the community, we are doubling down on our population health outreach efforts of the past and pledging to continue communicating what is available to meet the needs of the community during these challenging times,” said county Health Department Medical Director Dr. Herb Conaway said.

As of Monday, Burlington County had 3,986 confirmed cases of the virus and 245 deaths, according to the state. Most of the deaths and a substantial number of the cases have involved residents of long-term care communities in the county.

Health officials say more testing data would give them a clearer picture of the spread throughout the county.

The county’s expansion to testing residents without symptoms also coincides with Gov. Phil Murphy’s moves to gradually begin lifting some of the social-distancing restrictions put in place in March at the start of the outbreak.

State and county parks are now open and Murphy has also approved reopening beaches and allowing retail businesses to do curbside business. Charter boat rentals are also now permitted, and hospitals are scheduled to begin performing elective procedures again next week.

Murphy said his decision to peel back those restrictions and others put in place, reflect both a slowing of the disease’s spread and expanded testing capacity across the state.

New Jersey’s two at FEMA-run sites in North Jersey at Bergen Community College in Paramus and PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel made the switch to testing residents without symptoms earlier this month, and Rite-Aid is also now making appointments to test asymptomatic people at some of its pharmacies, including the Edgewater Park store off Route 130.

Virtua Health also runs a free testing site at its Virtua Willingboro hospital on Sunset Road. Virtua patients who receive prescriptions are eligible to be tested there, along with any Burlington County resident, including those who walk-up without appointments.

Walk-ups at the Willingboro site are screened to determine if they have symptoms before being tested. Information was not immediately available about whether the health system is considering changing its protocols to allow residents without symptoms to undergo testing there.

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