Burlington County, New Jersey expands COVID-19 testing to keep up with demand

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Thursday, November 19, 2020
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Burlington County officials are offering expanded COVID-19 testing as demand has increased, especially ahead of the holidays.

TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Burlington County officials are offering expanded COVID-19 testing as demand has increased, especially ahead of the holidays.

The line for COVID testing wrapped around the parking lot at Rowan College at Burlington County in Mount Laurel on Thursday. Some waited in line for two hours.

"It was a cold wait and a long walk," said Leatha Wright of Lumberton, who came to get tested for peace of mind. "It's so rampant and I'm around quite a lot of different people."

The tests administered were saliva tests. Patients are asked to fill a test tube with saliva, then members of the Burlington County Sheriff's Department take the sample straight to Rutgers for processing each evening.

"It's hard when they tell you not to drink for 45 minutes and your mouth is dry. It's kind of hard to produce saliva when your mouth is dry," said Sam Bailer, of Maple Shade.

The payoff is quicker results, usually back in 24 to 48 hours.

The testing site will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Friday for county residents or those who work or attend school in the county. Burlington County officials say they plan to offer free testing three days a week in December to keep up with demand.

Officials say Burlington County's positivity rate has been hovering around 13 to 14% - higher than the state's positivity rate of about 11%.

"We saw it after Halloween. People were having Halloween parties, we saw our transmission rates go up," said Dr. Herb Conaway, Burlington County Health Director.

Officials sounded alarms in Camden County, too. While hospitals are keeping up now, Virtua Health officials say they worry about what's ahead after the winter holidays.

"We're expecting to by far break the record for the number of patients we saw last spring," said Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Reginald Blaber.

High school winter sports competition to begin after New Year, hockey practice starts in December

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's Sports Advisory Task Force, the statewide group of athletic administrators tasked with developing return-to-play protocols for New Jersey high school sports, issued its final plan for the winter sports season on Thursday.

Competition for all winter sports will begin after the New Year.

NJSIAA officials said ice hockey may start practicing on December 14, 2020.

Basketball, fencing and bowling may start practicing on January 11, 2021.

Swimming and winter track & field may start practicing on February 1.

Gymnastics, girls' volleyball, and wrestling may start practicing on March 1.

NJSIAA said post-season play is under consideration and will be determined at a later date for wrestling, gymnastics, and girls volleyball - the sports that start practicing in March.

"There will be no NJSIAA-sponsored post-season for any other winter sports. Post-season play may be hosted locally by participating leagues and conferences, at their own discretion," officials said.

The Sports Advisory Task Force is still finalizing the spring season schedule.

"The Sports Advisory Task Force remains committed to providing as complete of a spring season as possible and will release final spring sports season plans on or before Friday, December 11, 2020," officials said.

The NJSIAA said the spring season is likely to extend through June.

Indoor practices and competitions are limited to 10 persons in New Jersey; however, if the number of individuals who are necessary for the practice or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, is greater than 10 persons, the practice or competition may proceed.

If this exception applies, the number of individuals still may not exceed 25 percent of the capacity of the room in which it takes place, or 150 persons, whichever is less.

"Practically speaking, this means that spectators are prohibited," the NJSIAA said.

New Limits on Gatherings

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has reduced indoor gathering limits because of the COVID-19 resurgence with outdoor limits soon to follow.

Earlier this week, Murphy ordered indoor gatherings to fall from 25 to 10 and outdoor get-togethers from 500 to 150 people. The new indoor limit went into effect 6 a.m. Tuesday, while the outdoor level kicks in Nov. 23.

Religious services, celebrations, political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services and performances may continue under the current rules, but are limited to 25% of a room's capacity, up to 150 people, Murphy said in a tweet.

"We think those are steps, coupled with the other steps we have taken, which will hopefully begin to shake these numbers down," he told MSNBC. "This is a lot of fatigue. It's a lot of private setting transmission. Particularly with the holidays coming up, we've got to plead with people to not let their hair down, to be vigilant, social distance, face coverings, all the basic stuff we know works."

The lower levels come just before Thanksgiving and ahead of the winter holidays.

Murphy said he understood that the new limits would lead to frustration, but said little about this year has been normal.

"I must again pull back the reins," he said. "It gives me no joy."

New Jersey's coronavirus levels have been spiking, which Murphy has said amounts to a "second wave."

On Wednesday, Murphy said there were 4,063 new cases of COVID-19 in the state and 2,446 patients are currently in the hospital

"There is no way to sugarcoat any of these numbers. They are not good and they are trending worse. The only way we can reverse these is to wear masks, social distance, wash hands and not attend any private gatherings outside of our immediate families in our own homes," he said.

Murphy said the tighter limits are aimed at limiting house parties, which he said contribute to climbing COVID-19 rates.

Last week, new statewide dining restrictions went into effect, putting a late-night curfew on indoor dining and eliminating barside seating at all times.

Camden County has been one of the hardest-hit counties in our area recently, reporting 400 new cases Sunday.

Last week, the county opened up a COVID testing site at Camden County College in Cherry Hill because of increased demand.

"I want to be responsible. I want everyone to be safe, so I canceled my party. In terms of Thanksgiving, we're all going to keep it low key," said Dr. Alicea Davis of Camden.

Murphy spoke virtually with governors in surrounding states Sunday night.

"Together, we will follow the science, keep our region safe, and save lives," Murphy said.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.