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How Paterson, N.J., Has Traced Nearly 90% Of Its Coronavirus Cases

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now for a COVID-19 success story and one from an unlikely place. Paterson, N.J., is a low-income city and one of the state's most devastated by the coronavirus. But a year ago, before most of us had ever heard the word coronavirus, the city asked for a grant to establish a communicable disease investigation team. Well, that team has been busy. It has now traced about 90% of the more than 6,000 positive virus cases in Paterson. Joining us now is Dr. Paul Persaud. He is health officer for the city of Paterson.

Dr. Persaud, welcome.

PAUL PERSAUD: Thank you very much.

KELLY: So I have to ask - how did you all know to ask for a grant for this in particular last year? Do you have a crystal ball or - what made you think this was what you were going to need the money and the resources for?

PERSAUD: Well, in New Jersey, one of the most important functions of a local health department is to investigate communicable diseases. We had a staff of about two.

KELLY: Two - wow.

PERSAUD: Always thought that in event of a large disaster, our - a large-scale foodborne outbreak, for example - then we would need to scale up - would probably be in problems. So I thought about ways to strengthen our team and make a much bigger team than what we have. So unfortunately, our city is poor, and we did not have the resources to hire more people to expand our team. So I just had to cross-train some of our staff, some of the - you know, the - from the various departments. And then this grant came out from the state, and I used that to help us with - to - you know, to augment this team. And we trained, like, 25 members.

KELLY: And I'm sure you're awfully...

PERSAUD: And that was...

KELLY: ...Glad you did. Tell me a little bit about what this team is actually doing right now. What's the typical day?

PERSAUD: So on a typical day, we get - in New Jersey, labs are required to report cases of communicable disease into the state's surveillance system. Those cases are broken down by jurisdiction. So those that are - those case that are from Paterson, we get them - that reside in Paterson.

So on a typical day that the team - the person that does triage for the team would get all the cases and assigned these cases to different members of the team that we call the communicable disease strike team. They get those cases. They do the initial epi (ph) investigation, which is basically a case investigation. They get the close contacts of those cases and determine the quarantine period based on the onset of illness.

KELLY: Right.

PERSAUD: Once that is done, that is - that - those - that case or those cases and contacts are handed over to someone who coordinates a team that we call - a part of the strike team that we call case and contacts monitors.

KELLY: And...

PERSAUD: Case and contact monitors. So they follow up...

KELLY: Case and contact monitors - right.

PERSAUD: And they - right. Go ahead.

KELLY: Forgive me, but I - in the few seconds we have left, I just want to point out the results sound really impressive - 90% of cases traced. How is Paterson doing? Are cases plateauing, flat, going up? Where are you?

PERSAUD: We are going down. We're down. We've peaked in April, and now we're down. We're down to, like - yesterday we had 12 cases. Another day we had six cases. It fluctuates a little, but...

KELLY: But the trend is down. Dr. Paul Persaud - he's health officer for Paterson, N.J.

Thank you so much for sharing a very rare success story in this fight. Good to talk to you.

PERSAUD: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.