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Camden County opens new drive-in COVID test site amid demand

2022 01 05 k burns camden testing site camden nj 1.jpg
P. Kenneth Burns
Koren Norwood, a Camden County health educator, assists Steve Shirk, of Audobon, with the COVID test packet, which includes a QR code to get to the website. Shirk was one of dozens to arrive to a new drive-in COVID testing site in Camden on Jan. 5, 2022.

Amid a surge in cases and hospitalizations, Camden County opened its newest COVID testing site Wednesday as demand for testing has soared in recent weeks.

The drive-in site at 2600 Mt. Ephraim Avenue in Camden was easy to find for Steve Shirk of Audobon, whose son told him about it.

“I was going to go to Cooper [University Hospital],” he said. “He told me to come here.”

Shirk came to get tested an hour after his wife learned she tested positive after being exposed to COVID at work.

“She’s been knocked out; sleeping a lot,” he said of her condition. “She’s under the weather, bad.”

Many came to the site after possible COVID exposure to be sure they hadn’t contracted the virus.

“Most of my colds start in my throat, but I just want to make sure,” said Arlene Evans, who works for the county sheriff’s office. Despite the scratchy throat, she said she feels fine overall.

Her advice, “get vaccinated and boosted, people… so we can return to some sense of normalcy,” adding that she “absolutely feels it’s better” to be vaccinated and boosted.

The new site will operate three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. for as long as there is demand. Walk-ins are accepted, no appointment is necessary. The county will be administering saliva tests from Vault Medical Service. Officials ask that those coming to the site not eat, drink, smoke, or vape for at least a half-hour before arriving at the site.

There has been a surge in demand for COVID testing nationwide as cases spike due to the omicron variant, which is not the dominant variant in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our studies have shown that it's 10 times more contagious than delta,” said Dr. Paschal Nwako, Camden County Health Officer and Public Health Coordinator. “Some studies say it's five times.”

The consensus across various studies is that the variant is highly contagious and spreads faster than the delta variant.

Hospitalizations due to COVID in South Jersey hit a new high Tuesday, topping its previous peak one year ago this month. It comes as hospitals across the state are planning to operate with at least 30% of their employees out due to illness.

State officials announced that requests for free, at-home tests available from Vault are now being capped to 30,000 per day due to demand.

“If you try to request a kit and get a message stating that the cap has been reached for that day, please try again the next morning,” state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday during the weekly COVID briefing.

“I know at one point I, myself, found myself going from store to store to pick up a rapid test,” said Carmen Rodriguez, Camden County Commissioner and liaison to the county health department. “Even in the pharmacies, the rapid test — which is less reliable — was off the shelves.”

She added that the new site gives people an opportunity to get tested, echoing Persichilli’s admonition that people not visit hospital emergency rooms to get tested.

“Emergency rooms are for emergencies, they're not for tests,” she added. “Unless you're very, very, extremely ill, you shouldn't be going to an emergency room.”