ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Don’t get Neil Caesar wrong. He’s thankful for the free coronavirus testing that Essex County has been offering to local residents since the pandemic began. But when you’re talking about a virus that has caused the death of almost 2,000 people throughout the county, there’s no room for mistakes, he said.
And that’s exactly what happened when an alleged “computer error” invalidated hundreds of COVID-19 virus saliva tests earlier this month, he told Patch.
According to Caesar, he and his family members were among those who attended one of the county’s COVID-19 virus test events between Nov. 2 and Nov. 9.
Those events included:
- Monday, Nov. 2 – Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, West Orange
- Wednesday, Nov. 4 – Essex County Golf Center, Roseland
- Thursday, Nov. 5 – Livingston Senior/Community Center
- Friday, Nov. 6 – Weequahic Park, Newark
- Monday, Nov. 9 – Maplewood Community Pool
It wasn’t anything new for Caesar — he’s been tested three or four times since the pandemic began, with negative results. And that made it even more surprising when he got an email from the county on Wednesday saying his latest results were “inconclusive.”
The email read:
“We recently discovered that results received from saliva tests administered by Essex County between Monday, Nov. 2 and Monday, Nov. 9 may have been part of a technical-IT issue on the part of Accurate Diagnostic Labs, the facility that was processing our testing samples during that time period. Anyone who was tested at one of our sites between Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 should treat those results as inconclusive and all of those individuals are encouraged to get retested.”
Anyone who is affected can call 973-877-8456 with their screening number to reschedule a test at an upcoming event, the email stated.
“You can continue to have complete confidence and trust in our COVID testing sites, which are staffed by well-trained, professional nurses,” the email continued. “As soon as we became aware of this issue with Accurate Diagnostics, we notified the lab and the New Jersey Department of Health immediately and have stopped using the services of that lab.”
A county spokesperson confirmed the email was sent to everyone who got a test at one of the events between those dates — a total of 458 people.
“The technical issue was a computer error on the lab’s part,” he told Patch on Thursday. “We described the results as ‘inconclusive’ because, after reviewing the situation, we did not believe the results were reliable.”
It’s not a comforting thought to Caesar.
“Again, free and convenient testing is a blessing, and I’m thankful to the county for making this possible,” he said. “But what seems to be small mistakes can have devastating consequences on a community.”
“Imagine being told you were negative … then receiving an email two-and-a-half weeks later saying your original results are now deemed ‘inconclusive?'” Caesar questioned, adding that thankfully, his family is “all well” with no symptoms of the virus.
According to state health officials, Essex County has seen 31,561 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 1,961 confirmed deaths from the disease. Both totals are the highest of any county in New Jersey, as of Thursday (see a town-by-town list below).
In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Essex County officials recently increased the number of tests administered at each of its sites and expanded testing to six days a week. Satellite testing locations are being rotated between municipalities.
Here’s how it works, county officials say:
“Essex County residents with or without symptoms are encouraged to get tested. Residents age 8 years and older are welcome to get tested. Residents are encouraged to get retested if they have taken the swab or saliva tests 14 days ago or more and have received negative test results. Testing is provided free of charge; health insurance is not required. To make an appointment, residents should visit www.EssexCOVID.org or call 973-877-8456. They will be required to complete a short questionnaire. When finished, they will be provided with an appointment time and a confirmation number. Residents should bring the confirmation number with them. They are asked to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.”
The next event takes place on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Meeker Avenue entrance of Essex County Weequahic Park in Newark. Walk-up appointments will be available at this location.
Other upcoming events include:
- Saturday, Nov. 21 – 9 a.m. to noon, Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, Archery Field, Cherry Lane, West Orange
- Monday, Nov. 23 – 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Essex County Branch Brook Park, Cherry Blossom Welcome Center, between Heller Parkway and Mill Street entrances, Newark
- Tuesday, Nov. 24 – 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Essex County Airport, 73 Passaic Ave., Fairfield
- Wednesday, Nov. 25 – 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Verona Community Pool, 257 Fairview Ave., Verona
- Friday, Nov. 27 – 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Essex County Weequahic Park, Meeker Avenue entrance, Newark
- Saturday, Nov. 28 – 9 a.m. to noon, Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, Archery Field, Cherry Lane, West Orange
Future test events are being planned, county officials said.
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