Maplewood sees first coronavirus death

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 around the world continues to rise, South Orange and Maplewood’s totals have risen as well. As of the morning of April 2, according to the county, of the 2,607 cases in Essex County, 26 are in South Orange and 59 are in Maplewood. One person has died from complications of the virus in Maplewood, according to a statement from Mayor Frank McGehee on March 30.

“I am saddened to inform you that we have lost a member of our community — 44 years young. On behalf of our Maplewood Township Committee, please join my colleagues and me in praying for the family at this time,” McGehee said. “I have spoken with the family and they are managing the best that they can under the circumstances.”

Also in his statement, McGehee said there are two more positive cases in town. As with the others, the health department will be in touch with anyone who was in recent contact with the individuals who were exposed.

“During these challenging times for everyone, we ask the community to be aware of families of individuals with mental health issues or a disability, as these families may be experiencing acute challenges,” he said. “Families with individuals that have intellectual and developmental disabilities rely on the assistance of teams of helpers — paid and unpaid — as well as established routines/schedules to help them navigate an inherently confusing world. Due to COVID-19, most of those aids and other supports are unavailable. As a result, we have created a disability-focused resource page to help:”

All township facilities in Maplewood are closed until further notice.

Mark Blum, a well-known Maplewood native who was an accomplished theater actor in New York City, also died from complications from the virus.

“Mr. Blum was an omnipresent figure in the off-Broadway world for decades, but his biggest moment in the spotlight came in 1989 after he played a time-traveling 20th-century playwright who befriends Gustav Mahler, in the Playwrights Horizons production of Albert Innaurato’s ‘Gus and Al,’” a March 27 New York Times article said. “Frank Rich, in his review in The New York Times, referred to Mr. Blum’s ‘appealing, weary-eyed portrayal’ and saw Al’s self-martyrdom as a form of ‘rueful hypersensitivity to the modern world.’”

South Orange created an online information portal dedicated to COVID-19, where residents can find updates about cases in the village, communication from town officials and information about school closures. In an update posted on March 26, when South Orange had 10 confirmed cases, Village President Sheena Collum told residents to continue following statewide social distancing guidelines.

“Because of the lack of testing available, it’s tough for any town to draw statistical conclusions at this point. While our number may appear low, please don’t let this create a false sense of security,” she said. “I, along with the Board of Trustees, continue to urge everyone to stay at home and avoid all unnecessary travel and interactions to the greatest extent possible.”

Collum also highlighted the Essex County drive-through test site. Located in Weequahic Park in Newark, county residents can make appointments at or by calling 973-324-9950. This means anyone wishing to be tested must meet specific testing criteria, which includes a fever of at least 99.6 degrees and respiratory symptoms of shortness of breath.

The South Orange portal also provides a place where residents can find ways to support the struggling local business community and help families and senior citizens who need it.

“Almost $42,000 has been raised in less than two weeks to help food-insecure families and seniors. Volunteers are literally sewing masks as per guidance from local hospitals to help fill the void from a lack of personal protective equipment,” Collum said. “A Facebook group, SOMa SQUAD, is delivering items to those who cannot get out, and, as of last night, there is now a SOMa NJ 3D Printers Alliance of local tech gurus who are creating face visors for health care professionals. While these are all incredible acts of generosity and kindness, the single biggest contribution you can make to our efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus is to stay at home and always maintain 6 feet of distance between you and others when you absolutely must go out. Continue to wash your hands — 20 seconds — and don’t touch your face.”

The South Orange COVID-19 portal can be accessed at