County, state set stringent guidelines to deal with pandemic

Photo Courtesy of the State of New Jersey
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announces a stay-at-home order to all residents in non-essential jobs to last for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life across the world, Essex County and New Jersey state officials are providing updates every day to residents about cases in the county and state and how they are being handled. According to state of New Jersey statistics as of March 26, Essex County has 381 cases of the virus and has seen four deaths. Two deaths were announced in a statement by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. on March 18.

“We are saddened to hear about the first two deaths in Essex County that are related to the coronavirus. During this difficult time, we share our thoughts and prayers with their family. This news really hits home about the devastating impact the virus can have on the well-being of our residents and community,” he said. “This is why the dramatic steps we have taken to close our parks and reduce contact visits at our offices are so important. These measures promote social distancing that can help slow the spread of the virus. We hope everyone is taking this seriously and doing their part to be careful and to stay well.”

In a press release on March 23, Essex County Public Information Director Anthony Puglisi said an Essex County inmate residing in Delaney Hall in Newark tested positive for COVID-19.

“The inmate has been isolated from the general population at Delaney Hall and is responding well to the treatment being provided to him by the medical staff at Delaney Hall,” Puglisi said. “In addition, the GEO Group has notified all staff who have come into contact with the inmate, and the seven inmates who were housed in the same dorm with the one inmate have been quarantined at the facility. None have exhibited any symptoms of the virus at this time. Working with the GEO Group, Essex Corrections staff are taking necessary precautions to ensure the ECCF is not impacted.”

The county parks and schools remain closed, and more measures to combat the spread of the disease were announced on the county website on March 20. In another statement, DiVincenzo explained why such drastic action is being taken.

“The coronavirus is a real and imminent threat to the public health of not only our county but of our country. We are taking all steps necessary to help prevent the spread of this virus; one of these actions is limiting places the public can congregate and promoting social distancing. These actions are not taken lightly and are done after consultation with the Essex County Public Health Officer and following guidelines from the N.J. Department of Health and CDC,” DiVincenzo said. “We all must be aware that our individual actions can have a tremendous impact on how fast the coronavirus is spread and we must all do our part. Please realize we are taking these steps in an abundance of caution.”

According to the update, beginning on March 23, any resident going to the Essex County Government Complex in Newark will have access to the Hall of Records, Veterans Courthouse and Historic Courthouse through the Veterans Courthouse. The building can be entered via the Rosa Parks Plaza, the Congressman Donald M. Payne Plaza or the Governor Brendan Byrne Plaza. The Essex County LeRoy F. Smith Jr. Public Safety Building will remain open.

Also according to the update, “Additional procedures have been implemented at all county facilities and buildings to enhance the cleaning and sanitizing of offices and areas where the public gathers, such as waiting rooms.”

The visitation schedule at the Essex County Correctional Facility has been modified, in addition to additional measures being taken to medically screen detainees entering and being released from the ECCF. Face-to-face attorney visits have been suspended, along with the family and friend visitation program.

Food security was also addressed in the county update.

“County residents who want to apply for SNAP food assistance or cash assistance under the Work First New Jersey program are encouraged to do so online at njhelps.org. Interviews will be done by phone, so you do not need to come into the office to apply for benefits,” the release read. “Work First New Jersey cash assistance clients who are due for their case to be reviewed in March or April automatically will get a 60-day extension. You do not need to come into the office. If your case is due to be recertified in March or April and you were unable to get your paperwork in or complete your interview, your case will not be closed. You will receive your benefits on the usual day. Your case will be recertified at some point in the future, once this public health crisis has settled. In the meantime, you will continue to receive SNAP benefits.”

More county updates can be found at www.essexcountynj.org/essex-county-update-on-the-novel-coronavirus-covid-19.

According to the state of New Jersey, as of March 26, there have been 4,402 positive cases of COVID-19 across the state and 62 deaths. In an executive order that he signed on March 21, Gov. Phil Murphy directed all residents to stay at home until further notice.

“From day one, we’ve made a commitment to be guided by the facts and take any action necessary to protect the health and safety of New Jersey’s 9 million residents,” Murphy said in the announcement of the executive order. “We know the virus spreads through person-to-person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes. This is a time for us all to come together in one mission to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow — and eventually halt — the spread of coronavirus.”

The order prohibits all gatherings unless otherwise authorized by the order. Individuals must practice social distancing, staying at least 6 feet apart, with the exception of immediate family members, caretakers, household members and romantic partners.

All nonessential retail businesses must close, allowing for the exceptions of grocery stores, pharmacies, medical marijuana dispensaries, medical supply stores, gas stations, convenience stores, hardware stores, banks, laundromats, pet stores, liquor stores, printing and office supply stores, and mail and delivery stores. Car dealerships will be allowed to remain open, but for auto maintenance and repair only.

“Nothing in the order shall limit: the provision of health care or medical services; access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; the operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or the operations of the federal government,” a press release announcing the executive order read.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters, other first responders, cashiers and store clerks, construction workers, utility workers, repair workers, warehouse workers, lab researchers, IT maintenance workers, janitorial and custodial staff, and certain administrative staff are all considered employees who need to present at their work site in order to perform their job.

Murphy also signed Executive Order 108, which “invalidates any county or municipal restriction that in any way will or might conflict with any of the provisions of Executive Order No. 107.”

“Municipalities or counties cannot: make any additions to or deletions from the list of essential retail businesses; impose any additional limitations on businesses beyond the governor’s order; impose any additional density or social distancing requirements; or impose any additional restrictions on freedom of movement,” the press release read. “The only exceptions are two categories over which municipalities or counties may impose any additional restrictions: online marketplaces for arranging or offering lodging, and municipal or county parks.”

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