Maplewood TC discusses implementing vaccination policy for township-owned buildings

Maplewood health officer Candice Davenport discusses a possible proof-of-vaccination policy at municipal buildings at the Dec. 7 Township Committee meeting.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood health officer Candice Davenport discussed the omicron variant of COVID-19 and the vaccination rate of township residents at the Maplewood Township Committee meeting on Dec. 7. The committee also discussed the vaccination policy at township venues.

As of Dec. 3, when the most recent data was available, the Maplewood vaccination rate among all ages eligible for the vaccine was 80 percent fully vaccinated. As of Dec. 3, 15 percent of residents had received one dose of the vaccine; which could bring Maplewood’s total vaccination rate to 95 percent by the end of the month. Countywide, the vaccination rate is 75 percent.

“If you break it down by age groups 12 and up, 18 and up, 65 and up and 80 and up, our numbers are very robust and help to contribute to our safety and herd immunity,” Davenport said at the meeting. “The state dashboard breaks down the age groups between 12 and 17.”

In Maplewood, 87 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 are vaccinated — a rate that has been rising steadily.

“We are steadily going up in Essex County and not losing momentum, so that’s a really good thing,” Davenport said.

According to information currently known about the omicron variant, Davenport said, it seems to be spreading faster than previous variants of the virus. Breakthrough cases have been reported around the world, including in New Jersey.

“What we’re able to know also is that the vaccine does work. The more people get vaccinated, the less there is a chance that a variant can mutate in a community,” Davenport said. “Even if people get the omicron variant and come down with COVID, even if they’re vaccinated, they are mild cases for the most part, as we’ve observed so far.”

The Maplewood Township Committee voted on Oct. 19 to require all township employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 7; at the Dec. 7 meeting, committee members and Davenport discussed requiring everyone to show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours before entering township venues.

“I would definitely say that our numbers are going up,” Davenport said. “It would be something that would be strongly considered and is modeled already in places that are doing private, large-scale events.”

If a performance is held in a township-owned building or another event is held in town, Davenport said not everyone attending is necessarily from Maplewood and is therefore not counted in the town’s vaccination rate.

“We have people who are coming to watch our shows that are not necessarily Maplewood people,” she said. “They’re coming from all over, and their vaccination status is unknown. It is just a matter of whether we have the resources and manpower to (enforce this policy).”

She deferred to township attorney Roger Desiderio and administrator Jerry Giaimis about regulations that would allow the town to require proof of vaccination, but Davenport recommended implementing the measure.

“Anything that we can do to be conservative or prudent for the safety of our patrons and staff and performers I would always advocate for,” she said. “I want to say very clearly, all of these strategies do not mean zero risk. The more mitigation strategies we put in, we are just trying to lower the risk while moving forward with safety and normalcy. That’s really the intention here. We’re not trying to exclude or ban people; we want to make sure that when people want to enjoy a show they can feel that they’re doing so safely.”

Using The Woodland as an example, where many performances and events take place, Davenport said that, as the weather gets colder, it becomes less feasible to leave doors and windows open to regulate air flow. Requiring patrons to be vaccinated could be a replacement measure.

Desiderio said, since the state health department is not requiring vaccination in municipal venues, the committee would have to base its decision on the recommendation of Davenport or another health expert in the event that the measure holds up against a legal challenge. He advised a more detailed reasoning be given at the meeting.

Davenport said she has asked the county what its recommendation would be and is waiting to hear back.

“The thing is, these are public township buildings, but we’re hosting events that people are paying to attend,” she said. “This is not like you’re doing this for people to come to a township meeting or to go to a public ceremony. This is private people renting it to do a show in a public venue.”

The committee decided not to take action until the Dec. 21 meeting, giving Davenport and Desiderio time to prepare an official recommendation. In general, however, Maplewood officials are largely supportive of the measure.

“I don’t necessarily think we need to wait for the state,” Committeewoman Nancy Adams said at the meeting. “I’m not saying we should institute any policies for private businesses or venues, but we own these buildings. They follow rules in many different ways when they rent them. I would rather be extra cautious and get some blowback than to just kick it down the road.”