West Orange sees 21 COVID deaths

Photo by Yael Katzwer
WEST ORANGE STRONG — A Mountain Avenue resident put the above display on the tree in his front yard as a message of hope during this difficult time.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 around the world continues to rise, West Orange’s total has risen as well. As of April 9 statistics from the county, of the 6,034 cases in Essex County, 414 are in West Orange, and 21 people in West Orange have died from complications of the virus. According to an April 5 Facebook post from Mayor Robert Parisi, when 333 people were sick in the township, 17 of West Orange’s infected people were hospitalized, and six of those people were in the intensive care unit. The rest are recovering at home.

The health department is tracing the contact history of people who have tested positive for the virus, and will call those who have possibly been exposed. Many comments on the mayor’s Facebook posts asked for the names and addresses of residents who have contracted the virus, and Parisi repeatedly explained that HIPAA laws prevent personal information of patients from being released.

“It is impossible for any of us to avoid the speculation or rumors that surround a crisis like this. But regardless of what may be posted, or feared, the township is only, and will only, report official information, and that includes cases that can be confirmed,” he said on April 5. “Even when conditions are normal, and not clouded with a worldwide pandemic, determining the cause of death often takes days. Given the current conditions, health care professionals and medical examiners are overwhelmed. It is taking days, and in some cases more than a week, for the official cause of death to be confirmed and reported. The township is taking guidance from the state and from official sources before we report confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus or confirmed cases of death, not from social media.”

Parisi also talked about the number of cases in senior citizen apartment buildings and nursing homes in town. The town will not be releasing specific information about how many cases are in those buildings, just as they won’t release the addresses of others who have tested positive for the virus. As of April 5, Parisi said there have been no COVID-19–related deaths in any of the township’s senior citizen homes.

“Besides being protected information, it serves no public purpose other than to feed our curiosity,” he said in the April 5 post. “Information is being shared with those impacted and the families of those impacted. Township, and even state, health professionals are working closely with all these communities and providing the best and most up-to-date guidance and support for each of them. We are all expected to stay home, so knowing who may have the virus, or what neighborhood they live in, provides no public health benefit. We should offer them prayers but other than that, let’s just do our part and stay home.”

In the West Orange School District, parent–teacher conferences and marking period deadlines are being revised. The marking period end date for grades six to 12 has been changed from April 15 to April 27.

“In lieu of the traditional parent–teacher conference, our Pre-K–5 principals have asked teachers to touch base with parents and guardians to discuss each child’s progress in a manner that is convenient for all parties,” Superintendent Scott Cascone said in a press release on April 5. “We take great pride that the school district continues to remain a constant for you and your family during these extraordinary times, but we do recognize that, as some of us contract the virus, it will become difficult for some to maintain their day-to-day. We are here to help and provide support in areas of food provisions, mental health, crisis management and touchpoints for overall well-being. To this extent, we encourage you to contact our hotline and learn of the resources that can be made available: 973-435-9637.”