TOMS RIVER – It’s easy to get focused on the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases around the world – and right outside your door – but it’s worth looking at what those numbers really mean.
Health officials are saying that the number of positive cases and even the number of deaths are more a reflection of how many people are being tested. It is not necessarily an accurate number.
Weeks ago, the number of cases in Ocean County was still less than a hundred. However, that figure was understood to be lower than reality.
There was no way to count how many people had the virus but weren’t sick enough to get tested. In the beginning, residents reported not being allowed to get tested without underlying health issues.
The cases posted are just confirmed cases, said Brian Lippai, spokesman for the Ocean County Health Department.
“Keep in mind most cases of COVID-19 are mild to moderate, like the common cold. Others are just carriers while some will get sick and never know it. That’s why it’s so important we follow the social distancing and the other hygiene recommendations and guidelines because most health care experts believe that even these moderately effective interventions to reduce transmission can have a significant impact on the scale of the epidemic,” he said.
Now that the county has opened its own testing site at Ocean County College in Toms River, the numbers are naturally going up. The simple reason: More people are getting tested.
“We certainly are seeing more positive cases due to the increase in testing being done. Health officials expected that,” Lippai said.
A county press release on April 9 stated that 1,513 Ocean County residents had been tested just at that site since it opened on March 30. It is unknown how many tested positive.
Since these numbers are constantly changing, the best thing to do is to direct readers to websites that update daily.
Locally, OCHD.org shows counts for each town in Ocean County.
A website that lists counts for the state is here: nj.gov/health/cd/topics/covid2019_dashboard.shtml At press time, it showed six hospitals that were full, all of them are out of this area.
One interesting thing about the state’s website is that it shows how many people test negative for COVID-19 as well. As of press time, approximately 56 percent tested negative. However, it is unclear how many of these were false negatives, which health officials said has been happening.
The country statistics are listed here: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html. It shows how prevalent it is in each state and U.S. territory.
“You can’t rely on just the laboratory-confirmed cases,” said Marc-Alain Widdowson in an interview with The Washington Post. He is an epidemiologist who left the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year and now serves as director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp in Belgium. “You’re never going to apply the test on everybody who is ill and everybody who dies. So without doubt – it’s a truism – the number of deaths are underestimated globally because you don’t apply the test.”
The Post article noted that people who die of undiagnosed respiratory illness in hospice or in nursing homes might not be part of that count, for example.
Nature.com has been following the disease and said researchers are using the daily death rates to determine if the disease is on the rise or slowing down in a particular area. In some countries that got hit before ours, Italy for example, the daily death rates are in decline. This suggests that the country is recovering.
One of the difficulties in tracking COVID-19 is that sometimes people have little or no symptoms and can still infect others. Therefore, some studies suggest that the number of actual cases is artificially low.
How To Get Tested
Currently, the parking lot of Ocean County College in Toms River has been used as a drive-through testing center for the coronavirus. However, there are some things you need to know before you go.
The site used to be Monday through Friday. However, it is now just Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is a good thing.
“We are meeting the testing needs of our residents and will reduce the number of test days to three at the college,” said Ocean County Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye. “Should the need exist we will open up to five days again.
“Because of the limited number of tests we have, it still remains imperative that people follow the requirements to be tested at the college,” he said. “We do not want anyone to show up at this testing site without following the requirements we have put in place. We are not going to do any health screenings at the site. It is just for testing for the virus.”
In other words, you can’t just drive there if you feel like you might have symptoms. You must get a doctor’s prescription to use the service. If you are showing signs of the virus, or have been exposed to someone with the virus, you should contact your doctor immediately to see if you need to be tested.
“Ocean County has again been able to secure additional tests for Ocean County residents allowing us to continue the testing,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “I extend the appreciation of the Board of Freeholders to the hospitals, the Ocean County Health Department, Ocean County College, and our Office of Emergency Management that have helped run this test site. The testing has gone very smoothly and all the agencies working there have gone above and beyond to make sure those giving the tests are safe and the public receiving the rests are also protected.”
The site will run from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily and will run weather permitting. The site will operate as long as coronavirus tests continue to be available.
Officials urge that you must be registered and have a doctor’s prescription for the test before you go. It is for Ocean County residents only.
What you need to do:
- You cannot get the test unless you are showing symptoms. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, fatigue, a dry cough and shortness of breath.
- Get a prescription from your doctor. Some medical offices are prescribing remotely (see below).
- Register for a test. To register for the coronavirus test visit the Ocean County Health Department website at ochd.org and follow the online directions.
- Assemble your necessary paperwork: prescription, proof of residency/identification, registration
- Drive to OCC and enter through the Hooper Avenue entrance.
- You stay in your vehicle while hospital medical personnel perform a nasal swab.
- Wait three-five days for results. “All the results will be available on the BioReference Laboratories Patient Portal: Bioreference.com/patients/ and Ocean County Health Department and residents will be notified whether they test positive or negative,” Regenye said.
“Learning whether you have coronavirus is just the first step,” Regenye said. “We want you to have the proper follow up care also.”
Ocean County has entered into a contract with BioReference Laboratories for the first 1,000 coronavirus test kits to be used at the site. The county’s contract is independent of the state’s contract with the company.
“With the help and guidance of Congressman Smith we will also be assisted by Quest Diagnostics for some supplemental testing kits,” Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari said. “Congressman Smith has been making every effort to get us what we need at this site. We are grateful for his help.”
“This testing site for Ocean County residents is the result of the combined efforts of U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management under the direction of Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, the Ocean County Health Department, Ocean County College, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and Hackensack Meridian Health,” said Vicari. “The drive thru testing site will help with our large senior population and those residents who have been advised to be tested for the coronavirus.”
“Currently, testing is a prerequisite for certain medicines including remdesivir and the sooner people can get tests and results the more options they will have for treatment,” said Rep. Smith, who represents several towns in northern Ocean County.
“Repeating the words of our Governor, this site is not for the ‘worried well,’” Vicari said.
“We will be adhering to the strict requirements for getting a test at this site,” said Sheriff Mastronardy. “If you haven’t registered and if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription we cannot provide you with a test. I cannot stress this enough.”
The Ocean County Sheriff’s Department is providing security and traffic control at the site and the staff from four area hospitals and the health department will be administering the test at the drive thru.
“We are doing everything we can to have safeguards in place to protect the nurses and medical personnel on site and the public coming to be tested,” Mastronardy said. “We strongly urge the public to adhere to the requirements we have established.”
Health experts say individuals not experiencing any signs or symptoms of a respiratory illness are discouraged from being tested as it diverts resources away from those who need it most, floods the laboratory with specimens unlikely to test positive and provides individuals with a false sense of security when the results come back negative.
How To Get A Prescription
Regenye said that any practitioner (including nurse practitioner, advanced practice nurse, medical doctor, physician assistant etc.) who has “prescriptive” privileges in New Jersey can write a script for COVID testing, it does not necessarily have to be a physician.
Additionally, many physicians have processes in place so that patients don’t need to come in.
“Many health care providers are now doing telemedicine and are offering this service remotely and in the spirit of social distancing,” Regenye said. “Please do not unnecessarily expose healthcare workers or others in an attempt to obtain a physician’s order. Please use telemedicine when appropriate during this challenging time.”
The hospitals assisting in staffing the testing site – both Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJ Barnabas Healthcare System – who are helping staff the test site – also have telemedicine that can provide prescriptions. They can be accessed here: