Social distancing ambassadors spread info in Maplewood parks

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood’s parks remain open to the public, and the last two weeks have seen nine residents walking around them wearing green shirts and handing out face masks. They’re the social distancing ambassadors, who are part of a program Maplewood is testing out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not only do they hand out masks, they answer questions about social distancing and what we should be doing,” Health Officer Candice Davenport said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 3. “This is more of a friendly reminder and community involvement.”

The last couple weeks of more than 95-degree heat has made the job a little harder, but Davenport said the ambassadors, who are mostly high school and college students from Maplewood, have been getting good feedback.

“People are asking for masks,” she said. “They go up to them and thank them for the reminder.”

The ambassadors will be out and about in Maplewood until at least Labor Day, and then the health department and Township Committee will decide whether or not it’s necessary to extend the program into the fall.

“If we wear masks and social distance, we can reduce the number of cases in town and keep those public places open, which we want to do,” Davenport said. “We don’t want to have a spike in cases happen.”

Mayor Frank McGehee said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 3 that the social distancing ambassadors reminding residents about pandemic guidelines is more effective than other efforts.

“This is a friendly, collective way to reinforce the message,” he said. “It’s less abrasive. We’re actually handing out masks and information. It’s a reminder to please wear a mask, young and old, so we can all get through COVID-19.”