Burlington County partners with Murphy administration to expand COVID-19 testing

Burlington County Board Freeholders Deputy Director Tom Pullion, left, and Gov. Phil Murphy announced a landmark new partnership in the fight against COVID-19 that should ensure county residents continue to have access to testing and other assistance during the ongoing pandemic.

Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders Deputy Director Tom Pullion, Gov. Phil Murphy and Congressman Andy Kim announced a landmark new partnership in the fight against COVID-19 that should ensure county residents continue to have access to testing and other assistance during the ongoing pandemic.

Under a Memorandum of Agreement between the freeholders and Murphy’s administration, Burlington County will receive close to $3 million to support its COVID-19 testing program and an additional $565,000 to reimburse them for other expenses related to its pandemic response, according to information provided by the freeholders.

The freeholders voted to approve the agreement on Aug. 20 and Pullion joined with Murphy and other state and county officials for an announcement in Morris County.

“From the start of the pandemic, our governments have made the health and safety of all residents the top priority and our actions continue to reflect that commitment,” Pullion said in the statement. “While COVID-19 has posed challenges unlike anything we’ve ever encountered, I’m proud of our response and even more proud to enter into this new partnership with the Murphy administration.”

“There is no denying that COVID-19 has placed an incredible amount of strain on resources across all levels of government,” Murphy said, according to the statement. “I’ve been clear from day one of this crisis that we’ll spare no expense to protect the health and safety of New Jerseyans, and that requires us to provide our communities with the support they need. Together, this funding will help us save lives and emerge stronger as one New Jersey family.”

The funding is being distributed by the Murphy administration from federal CARES Act money New Jersey received this spring and is expected to cover the County’s testing expenses to date plus its anticipated expenses through the remainder of the year, including the expansion to at home mail-order saliva tests.

The additional $565,000 in aid will reimburse the county for other expenses directed related to the health crisis that are not reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will allow the County to continue offering other coronavirus services without overburdening its property taxpayers, according to the statement.

While Burlington County was the first county in New Jersey to provide free COVID-19 testing to residents, first responders and health care workers, it received no CARES Act money directly because its population was slightly below the law’s 500,000 population cutoff for direct funding.

Eleven other counties also received no CARES Act because their populations were below the cutoff. The Murphy administration has entered into similar agreements with those counties to provide testing.

Collectively, all 12 counties are expected to receive about $37 million in federal funding to assist with their coronavirus response.

Congressman Andy Kim, who is New Jersey’s lone representative on the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, promised to continue working to secure more financial help for New Jersey and its counties, according to the statement.

“I voted for the CARES Act because I saw firsthand the impact this crisis has had on Burlington County and our townships,” Kim said in the statement. “The expanded testing paid for by this funding will go a long way towards helping us put an end to this pandemic and keeping our families safe, but it’s not enough. Congress needs to step up and finish the job to deliver additional funding to our state and counties. This crisis has hit us hard enough, we shouldn’t see teachers and police laid off or services cut because Washington didn’t stand up for New Jersey. I’ll continue working with the freeholders, our state leaders, and my colleagues to fight for that funding and help our communities get through this crisis.”

To date, more than 8,000 residents and workers have been administered COVID tests through Burlington County’s testing program, according to the statement. The program was started in March at a fixed testing site at the county Emergency Services Complex in Westampton before being moved to mobile locations throughout the county last month.

The county returned to testing at a fixed clinic outside the county Health Department this week but plans to expand next month to at-home testing with a mail-order and return system.

“Early on we identified access to COVID-19 testing as one of the most critical actions our county could take to help fight the spread of this disease, and we went so far as to budget millions for our response without knowing whether any state or federal funds would be made available to us,” Pullion said in the statement. “By partnering with the state, we can access CARES Act funding and ensure our testing can continue and remain accessible for as long as it is needed.”

In addition to offering free testing, the county has distributed close to 2 million pieces of personal protective equipment to long-term care facilities, municipal government and first responders in the county and help give out more than 3,000 boxes of food and fresh produce to families impacted by the pandemic.

“From free testing to our residents, distributing food and protective equipment to deferring loans for our small businesses, our County has done everything in our power to help our residents get through these challenging times and let them know they’re not facing it alone,” Pullion said in the statement. “We will continue to offer help and assistance, and through partnerships like this one, and with leaders like Gov. Murphy and Congressman Kim in our corner, we will beat this virus.”