BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- Mayor Mary Jane Canose was pro-active with some of the precautions she took as soon as the COVID-19 virus became a pandemic earlier this month.
The Bernardsville mayor was one of the first in the area to call for closure of fields, playgrounds and basketball courts in the borough to uphold the calls for social distancing.
But Canose admits that the prospect of businesses in town being forced to remain shuttered for a lengthy amount of time is troubling.
"Businesses are really suffering, and our concern, like many small towns, is we are just beginning to revitalize our small town," Canose said. "This could do a lot of damage. We had just started to get new businesses in town. Now it is a ghost town, and some businesses may never recover."
Like many others inside and outside local governments across the state, Canose is watching carefully what kind of assistance might come out of Washington, D.C.
"I am hoping that the legislature comes up a with good package for small businesses. Something that would include low or no-interest loans, there's a lot on table," said Canose, who said she hoped that partisan political agendas would not derail what is being negotiated. "It's not the time to do that."
Earlier this week, Bernardsville had its first confirmes case of the coronavirus. There were 73 cases in Somerset County as of early Monday. No other information was disclosed about the person in Bernardsville who was the first confirmed case.
"It is frightening, because there are people who are compromised in every town," Canose said. "I think we took steps quickly and people have been self-isolating. I don't see a lot of people out. We're not a town like Morristown where there is a lot of social gathering or where large groups congregate. Starbucks is closed for two weeks. We closed parks and playgrounds, I see social distancing. All the employees at ShopRite are wearing masks and gloves."
By March 14, Bernardsville fields and playgrounds had already been declared off limits. Many other towns in the county and surrounding areas did not follow suit until several days later for their own fields and playgrounds.
"All the mayors have a daily conference call with Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson, and a couple of weeks ago, one of them brought up the idea of closing the parks," Canose said. "I thought that made a lot of sense. At the Polo Grounds, the tennis courts, fields and playground are closed, but you can still walk there. The Old Army Trail, that is still open. People can still walk around the outside of the park without playing ball in a group there."
While the public usually looks to civic leaders in a time of crisis, in this case, mayors and elected leaders are in the same predicament as the rest of the citizens, without any more insight into when the crisis might end than any other residents.
"The scary part is, people have gone through (emergency) events before, like (Superstorm) Sandy (in 2012)," Canose said. "But those were one-time events. This is something that, we don't know when the end will be.
"(With) social distancing, the hope is, if people can do that, I think we can get through this quicker," she said. "Of course, that's hard for people to do; we're social creatures."