ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The neighboring municipalities of Newark, Irvington, Orange and East Orange are adamant about their safety measures surrounding the fight against COVID-19. So much so, that Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and East Orange Mayor Ted Green have banded together and announced a “lockdown” of their four cities on Wednesday, April 1, to last for at least a week.
Given the close proximity of the four cities; the ease of travel between the neighborhoods of each city; and the many shared points of culture, commerce and industry, the mayors collectively determined that they had to take harsher action to reinforce their efforts against COVID-19.
The four mayors met via Zoom on April 1 to discuss the lockdown, with Baraka opening the recorded meeting.
“We’ve come together today because of COVID-19, which is continuing to devastate our communities collectively,” Baraka said. “There were common-sense measures put in place such as social distancing, staying at home, continuing to wash your hands. The governor even passed an executive order that dictated our movement and behavior at this time. Many of us are listening, but there are some of us who have not gotten the picture, which allows the virus to continue to spread.
“As a result of that, we’re instituting Operation Lockdown, which will begin today and go on for the next seven days and, at the end of that, we’ll reassess whether we need to continue this or not,” he continued. “We’re asking people to stay in the house and come outside for emergency purposes only. Obviously, we’re going to move from informing and telling people about the governor’s executive order to now engaging and fining people that we find in violation of that executive order.”
For Operation Lockdown, the municipalities will enact a lockdown of each city in compliance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s 8 p.m. curfew. Those efforts will go as far as arrests and other procedures to force violators to comply with orders.
“We’ll be giving out blue summonses and we’ll be holding people in our community accountable for violating this order and making our neighborhoods and our families unsafe,” Baraka said. “We’re also going to join our police forces in these various cities to make sure we are patrolling the borders, that cars aren’t moving about unnecessarily, and people are not traversing, back and forth, from city to city in purposes that are not for emergencies only. We’re doing this because we want to save lives. The quicker we do it, the longer we do it and the better we are at obeying this, the more lives we save and the quicker we can get out of this situation.”
Vauss discussed the operation’s mobile wellness checks.
“As many people may not know, this is not new to us,” Vauss said of his mayoral colleagues. “We collaborate all the time. We make sure that we partner with whatever’s going on within our cities so that we know the best ways to deal with whatever circumstances come about. This virus we have here is serious, and the virus doesn’t know the difference between Irvington, East Orange and Orange. It’s affecting all of our people, all of our relatives, friends and family. Everyone has families in other communities, and we decided to come together so that you can hear a united message on how we intend to deal with this crisis.
“For some people, it’s going to be uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to be uncomfortable, because this is what we need to do going forward. We’re going to be doing wellness checks in each one of our municipalities and as a collective unit,” he continued. “So, the municipal police will be conducting roving patrols, making sure that people are practicing social distancing. I can’t say that enough that you need to practice social distancing. It’s very important, because not only your life is in danger, you put the other lives of people in our community in danger as well. We have at least one patrol car that will be in each sector and we’ll be going forward, making sure that the governor’s executive order is enforced.”
For mobile wellness checks, municipal police will conduct roving patrols to observe and cite business owners and residents who are not complying with the governor’s executive orders regarding social distancing and occupancy levels in commercial establishments. At least one car in each sector shall use its public address system to convey compliance messages as often as necessary while on regular patrol.
“So, that will mean some people are going to be uncomfortable and some people are going to get tickets, and if it proceeds, we’ll refer you to the prosecutor’s office,” Vauss said. “We want everyone to understand that that’s coming together and to let you know that we’re not playing. This is serious business. This is about people’s lives. So, we want everybody to stay focused, stay vigilant and we want to give everyone fair warning about what we’re doing going forward.”
Green spoke about Operation Clean Business, which addresses the cleanliness of stores and neighborhoods as a major priority. Small businesses are now being asked to sanitize stores by cleaning doors and counters twice a day.
Apart from that message, Green also expressed how this lockdown is a call to action.
“This is an opportunity for all four of us to demonstrate a united front as mayors of communities who share the same concerns and issues,” Green said in an April 3 interview. “Many people are not taking the precautions needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus seriously, and we cannot let the ignorance of some affect the lives of others. Too much is at stake and we will do whatever we can to save lives. This lockdown is a call to action for everyone to take heed to the governor’s executive order or else risk dealing with more than just a warning.”
For Operation Wipe Down, Warren explained that senior citizen buildings and complexes are to be wiped down and sanitized three times per day. He also mentioned the signing of a compliance statement; building inspectors will collect those statements from property managers. If not in compliance, necessary action will be taken. All touch points, such as elevators, mailboxes, countertops, doorknobs, and doors, will be wiped down three times per day by the staff of the building. If that isn’t done, the owners will be contacted and further action will be taken.
Aside from that message, Warren expressed that this is a collective effort.
“As mayor of Orange,” Warren said in an April 4 interview. “It is important to work with other urban mayors who have to tackle similar issues to serve our residents. Given the ease of travel and common cultural, commercial and economic interests amongst our residents, we came together to develop common strategies to combat the COVID-19 virus. The lockdown essentially becomes a policy that affects most of the population in Essex County.”