UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county of Union will continue to operate its free COVID-19 testing site at Kean University throughout the fall semester under a first-of-its-kind partnership that will provide testing for the campus community as well as opportunities for research and student employment, Union County Freeholder Chairperson Alexander Mirabella and Kean President Lamont Repollet recently announced.
The county, which was the first in New Jersey to operate a COVID-19 testing site, will expand the partnership to provide a valuable public service for Union County residents and first responders from across the state while enhancing academic coursework, internships and employment for Kean students.
“The pandemic presents challenges on every front, but it also creates unique opportunities like this one for government and higher education to work together,” Mirabella said. “Combining forces like this not only helps the county to fight the spread of COVID-19, but also provides Kean students with hands-on experience in fields ranging from data analysis to public health management to crisis communications.”
Repollet said the decision to keep the testing site operating on campus throughout the fall semester was made in keeping with the university’s longstanding commitment to public service and in response to requests from the university community for efficient testing and contact tracing. The combination of significantly reduced campus density and continuous access to testing will help the Union campus to operate successfully throughout the semester, he said.
“This partnership is an opportunity for Kean to demonstrate its innovative nature as well as its strength in applied research and public service as it pursues a long-term goal of securing research university status,” Repollet said. “Working together, this initiative can show immediate results to benefit not only the campus community but also the county and the state of New Jersey.”
Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged the “one of a kind” partnership between Union County and Kean University.
“I congratulate and thank Union County Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella and Kean University President Dr. Lamont Repollet,” Murphy said. “This is a unique opportunity for those in public office and in our higher education settings to work together to not only defeat this virus, but to train the next generation of virus-fighters.”
Ada Morell, chairperson of the Kean board of trustees, also noted that the partnership moves the university forward in areas of research, public health and public service, and provides students with internship and job opportunities at a time when such opportunities are scarce.
“It’s good to see Kean and Union County taking a challenging situation and turning it around to benefit our students and faculty,” Morell said. “This initiative will further enhance the world-class education we provide by expanding research and service where it is needed most.”
The university and the county also are pursuing plans to create a unique and efficient one-stop COVID testing center by seeking certification for Kean University laboratories to process samples taken at the county testing site. Kean currently has the technical ability to process samples, but it requires federal approval to operate its labs for such a purpose. As demand grows for this type of processing, the university, with guidance from the state, hopes to secure the approvals later this year.
“With leadership and support from the state of New Jersey, this one-stop COVID-19 testing center would be the first of its kind on a New Jersey college campus and would enhance the county’s ongoing efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus,” Repollet said.
Chairman Mirabella said the possibility of using Kean’s labs to process nearly 2,500 to 3,000 samples each week would revolutionize the current operation by significantly reducing wait times for test results.
“This could be a game changer for county residents and really all of New Jersey,” Mirabella said. “The faster we can provide people with test results, the more effective they can be in isolating and the more effective we can be in contact tracing.”
State Sen. Joseph Cryan, whose district encompasses Kean University, said, “History will mark this moment with the observers and the doers. And while around the country, institutions of higher education are changing their fall semesters to remote instruction, Kean University is adapting its programming to move beyond classroom teaching and into a real-world practicum.”
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Kean alumnus, said, “The development of these services will be absolutely essential to managing the pandemic in Union County with the fall season fast approaching. We must be able to diagnose those who use the test center quickly, and it creates an opportunity to draw upon expertise of the Kean faculty and the energy of its students. Once again, Union County is leading the way in the battle against COVID-19, and I applaud the many partners who have come together.”
Union County opened its COVID-19 testing site at Kean University on March 23 and has administered more than 43,000 tests since that date. The county also has expanded community testing and outreach. For more information on the Union County COVID-19 Center at Kean, visit www.ucnj.org.