Coronavirus News: NJ city had infectious disease plan that helped mitigate crisis, mayor says

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- The city of Paterson in New Jersey is bouncing back from the pandemic that at one point included the mayor, who is lauding a robust strategy in place before the novel coronavirus that he says helped mitigate the crisis.

"Our daily infection rate three weeks ago was about 172," Mayor Andre Sayegh said. "This past Saturday, which was May 23, was six confirmed cases."

It is a dramatic shift for the town, and Sayegh credits preparedness.

"Paterson was prepared," he said. "We were prepared for a potential outbreak, which turn into pandemic. Which is why I feel like we were ahead of the curve before we started flattening the curve."

Paterson has a robust infectious disease staff, which today stands at 55. Last year, it was a department of only two people, the exponential expansion only possible through a $95,000 grant in 2010 from the New York State Department of Health.

"We could have used the grant to hire one person," Paterson Health Officer Dr. Paul Persaud said. "That would not have made a difference. I decided to train a team."

So while other cities had to ramp up their contract tracing team, Paterson's was already up in place and could handle the large volume of new cases every day.

"We have someone who does triage, then we have disease investigators, and then we have case and contact monitors," Dr. Persaud said.

And this newly trained team already works for the health department, which means they already have an advanced skill set -- and the expertise stays in house.

"He had the foresight to say, 'Mayor, you have to be prepared for a potential outbreak,'" Sayegh said. "Did he know about the pandemic? No."


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