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TRENTON – The New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratories in West Trenton can now test for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the Department of Health announced Friday, Feb. 28.

“The ability to test specimens in New Jersey accelerates the turnaround time for diagnosing cases and implementing public health measures,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “Testing capability will further enhance New Jersey’s preparedness and response to this evolving health emergency.”

Earlier this month, the CDC was granted an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to expedite the distribution of a diagnostic panel designed to test for the virus that causes COVID-19. The lab worked with the CDC to complete verification of the methodology and is now qualified to conduct COVID-19 testing, the release states. Prior to the authorization, the CDC laboratory in Atlanta was the only facility that could perform this test.

As has been the practice up to this point, testing will only be conducted with public health approval on specimens from individuals that meet CDC criteria for a person under investigation for COVID-19. The CDC will perform confirmatory testing on any positive results, which is a requirement of the FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

The New Jersey Department of Health has been working to prepare for and respond to the evolving novel coronavirus since early January. The department shared state and CDC guidance with hospitals, local health officials, K-12 schools, universities and businesses; established a novel coronavirus webpage; partnered with the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System to open a call center (1-800-222-1222) for the public; hosted stakeholder teleconferences; and continues coordinating state efforts weekly with the New Jersey Coronavirus Task Force chaired by Commissioner Persichilli. In addition, DOH’s epidemiologists are working with CDC and hospital and local health officials as individuals are screened at airports and ports.

To date, the 24/7 NJPIES hotline (1-800-222-1222) has received more than 620 calls from the public and can accommodate callers in multiple languages.

“The Department continues to remind residents to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from all respiratory viruses, such as washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick,” Persichilli said.

New Jersey has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and currently, no persons under investigation.

Click here for more information on novel coronavirus.

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.