EAST ORANGE, NJ — Since the outbreak of COVID-19, East Orange Mayor Ted Green has been hosting a weekly virtual town hall meeting. On April 16, the Facebook Live meeting featured Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who discussed key issues, such as state relief programs, resources for small businesses, unemployment, the northeast coalition’s coordination plan to reopen the economy and more.
“I want everyone to just think about this,” Oliver said. “We had our first case in New Jersey on March 11. That’s almost 33 days ago. Today, we currently have 65,000-plus infected people in the state of New Jersey. So, 65,000-plus people have been infected in just one month. We have lost 3,000-plus, and we know what is going on in our nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“This virus is new. Scientists and epidemiologists and others who study these things, we were caught so off guard in the United States, because we did not expect a pandemic to reach our shores, but it’s here,” she continued. “For us in Essex County, we are the No. 2 county in terms of the rate and infection, with Bergen County being the highest. The African American community is disproportionately represented among those who are infected. We need to understand that we are in crisis mode. We are in a war, but we can’t see our enemy.”
Other panelists included Monique S. Griffith, East Orange’s director of Health and Human Services; East Orange public health officer Victor Kuteyi; and Dr. Anuj Mehta of East Orange General Hospital.
Touching on the coronavirus symptoms people have experienced, Oliver said that many symptomatic people feel as though 500 pounds is resting on their chest, making it difficult to breathe. Hence, the urgent need for ventilators. Calling human life “precious,” Oliver called out the federal government for not adequately supplying resources.
“We have the resources in the United States to fix our economic challenges, but we do not have anything that can bring back a family member, a spouse, a child or a grandmother,” she said.
Oliver then discussed the rent-relief bill that was recently passed.
“Your landlord cannot evict you from your apartment now,” Oliver said. “I do know we’ve had constituents in East Orange who are getting these crazy letters from some of the property owners that if they don’t sign agreeing to a rent increase beginning May 31, then they’re going to have to give up their apartment. Please seek the counsel of the state. The website is covid19.nj.gov.”
On the website, complaints can be filed against landlords that are harassing, taking advantage of and scaring residents about eviction. As Oliver stated, the attorney general’s office has a team to deal with that issue.
A $100 billion bill was recently appropriated and is going toward individual states for rental assistance, and New York and New Jersey are well positioned to get a piece of that money. State officials are also working with congressional representatives to see more money go to cities like East Orange, which could ultimately mean more stimulus checks.
Focusing on his “tough love” approach and aggressively enforcing the state mandates already put in place, Green announced a 48-hour citywide “Saturday & Sunday Shutdown” that took place this past weekend.
The weekend shutdown did not include new restrictions but emphasized ramped up efforts by the East Orange Police Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Code Enforcement to ensure resident and business compliance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to stay home, practice social distancing, sanitize objects and spaces properly, and wear appropriate personal protective equipment in public spaces.
“Shutdown means that if you are blatantly disregarding the measures put in place to protect the health and safety of the people in our community, then we are shutting you down,” Green said. “While the majority of residents in our community have been compliant, there are still many who are not taking this pandemic seriously. Those are the ones I am talking to. It’s called tough love.”
Also discussed at the meeting, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, in partnership with the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, was set to deliver more than a ton of nonperishable provisions, up to 14 days’ worth of food, to provide emergency food relief for East Orange residents.
“The extent and impact of this crisis has made food insecurity an issue for many of our residents, some for the very first time in their lives,” Green said. “On behalf of the entire East Orange community, I want to express a heartfelt thanks to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges for this generous donation that will help put food on the table for so many of our families in need.”
The emergency food shipment occurred April 17 at the East Orange Senior Center. Each package contained items such as pasta, rice, canned meats and vegetables.
“Giving our constituents a constant flow of communication about this pandemic is an essential part of our public health strategy to help flatten the curve,” Green said. “These telephone town halls have been an invaluable tool for us, because we have been able to provide people with key updates and resources right in their homes, where they can remain safe but informed.”