LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the first time since the state officially enabled municipal governments to meet virtually to discuss administrative items that are necessary to the general operation of the township during the pandemic, the Livingston Township Council live-streamed its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday and invited feedback from the public about the township’s response to the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).
In addition to the regular makeup of Livingston’s government meetings—which includes the mayor and council members as well Township Manager Barry Lewis, Deputy Township Manager Russell Jones, Township Attorney Sharon Weiner, Township Clerk Glenn Turtletaub and Deputy Clerk Carolyn Mazzucco—the council also invited the township employees who have been at the forefront of Livingston’s response to the pandemic.
Prior to fielding questions from the public, updates were provided by Fire Chief Chris Mullin, who also serves as coordinator of the Livingston Office of Emergency Management (OEM); Police Chief Gary Marshuetz; Health Officer Lou Anello; and Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Beth Lippman.
Mullin explained that declaring a local State of Emergency in Livingston last week has allowed the OEM to “open up different avenues that would normally not be open when you’re not under an emergency [such as] getting equipment [and] procuring rules and regulations.”
In addition to following the “situational reports” being sent from the Essex County Sheriff’s Office twice a day in order to keep residents as informed as possible, Mullin said Livingston’s OEM has also filed requests for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for the township’s medical facilities.
“When [this request] can’t be filled locally, it goes up the chain through the state and then regional; and as we all know, there’s a backlog [for PPE] throughout the country […] so we’re hoping for some kind of relief shortly,” said Mullin, who also explained that the fire department is prepared to follow CDC guidelines when responding to any emergencies that arise.
“Regarding any potential responses that we might have to suspected residences where the coronavirus might be present, we do have a procedure where we’re limiting manpower/personnel if possible…Other than that, we’ve put together a decontamination kit with water and bleach and protective gloves, goggles, masks and stuff like that to try to reduce any exposure.”
Marshuetz, whose officers had previously been having trouble keeping groups of kids, teens and young adults from hanging out in groups around town despite the township’s order to close all parks, playgrounds and fields, he was proud to report that these occurrences have decreased significantly since the governor’s executive order to remain indoors.
“Initially, we did respond to a lot of areas and ask for people to comply and had to break up some gatherings, but now it seems like people are adjusting and understanding the importance of social distancing,” said Marshuetz, who added that Livingston businesses that are considered to be “non-essential” according to the governor’s executive order have complied with Murphy’s directive to shut their doors and work from home wherever possible.
Additionally, since there is less traffic on the roads due to the executive order that requires residents only to travel when strictly necessary, the Livingston Police Department’s patrol force has been broken down into smaller units “in the interest of not cross-contaminating [the] officers” so that the LPD can avoid losing its patrol force, Marshuetz noted.
“First and foremost, I’m very proud of the officers we have in Livingston,” he said. “They’ve certainly shown me how committed they are; they took an Oath of Office, and they’re there to protect and serve. We’re fully staffed right now; we’re patrolling the township; we’re making sure that the town is safe and secure; and, obviously, we’re limiting some of our contact that we have and trying to only make contact in more serious cases.
“We try to do more online and try to hold off on doing some things immediately, but that’s just an effort to keep our staff healthy so we can keep Livingston healthy as well. [Our officers are] brave and they’re resilient just like the residents of Livingston; but I just want to reassure the residents that we are out there in full force patrolling the streets and keeping the town safe and secure.”
When speaking about the recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases among Livingston residents, Anello explained that the number of confirmed cases is reported to the Livingston Health Department directly through the state lab. He said that the increases being reported within a 24-hour span have been “alarming” but not unexpected as more and more residents are being tested.
Anello added that the township is currently utilizing volunteer nurses in addition to the public health nurse in order to interview the individuals who test positive and anyone they have been in close contact with.
As of Wednesday night, there were 36 positive cases reported in Livingston and 437 cases reported in Essex County.
“I think the situation is going to explode if we have an outbreak in one of our long-term care facilities,” he said. “When you have anybody positive in one of those facilities, you’re going to see an increase because of the internal susceptibility of them. So hopefully that doesn’t happen, but that can happen at any time because the amount of positive cases that we’re getting is definitely going up.”
“We need to try to do our best to provide all the services that are regularly provided by the township,” said Lewis. “Our offices are open and staffed and taking questions. [We urge] the public to promote social distancing and prevent any risk of infection, but people are answering the phones, they will return calls if you leave a message, and certainly we urge everyone to utilize online services—you can make a lot of payments online, all of which is in a number of the notifications [from the township].”
In response to Lippman’s update on the impact on local businesses, which included a list of restaurants currently offering pickup and delivery options that will be shared later this week, Mayor Rudy Fernandez stated that the township is encouraging residents to support their local retailers and restaurants as much as possible.
“This is really, significantly impacting all businesses all across the state, and we’re certainly concerned about all our local businesses,” said Fernandez. “I know we’ve been trying from our end to encourage people to order takeout whenever they can from then just to support our local businesses.”
Lippman added that the BID and the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce have shared suggestions with local businesses of different ways they can continue to keep in touch with customers.
“Now that most businesses are closed other than the [list of essential businesses provided by the governor], we have been working [with all the restaurants],” she said. “I’ve been on the phone with all the restaurants over the last few days, and they are offering delivery, they’re offering curbside pickup, they are getting orders, and they’re trying to stay in business as best as they can. The good thing is that we’re a town that orders out a lot, and people are ordering out...
“[We’re also] trying to do little promotions—like a virtual “Girls Night Out”-type thing, where mom takes an hour and then she posts what she’s doing with her glass of wine—just to keep people connected [because] that’s part of it too, I think…I’m hoping, in the long run, that the federal government and the state will come up with plans to help our small businesses because ultimately what they’re going to need is money.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lewis reiterated that any executive orders from the governor immediately supersede any local orders being made at this time.
He assured residents that the township has been in constant communication Gov. Phil Murphy’s office as well as both New Jersey senators, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo in order to ensure that Livingston is being informed regularly at the federal, state and county levels.
“We’re here, and we’re certainly open to any suggestions,” he said of the township’s efforts to assist the public during the local State of Emergency. “[We] have implemented a number of things already for the public, [and] we are going to try and increase our efforts as a town to [support] the businesses and restaurants. For the most part, we’re just doing everything we can to keep as much normalcy as possible while adhering to all the guidelines and limits and restrictions.”
Lewis will meet virtually again with Fernandez and Anello on Thursday for a live question-and-answer session on the Ltown Lowdown community Facebook group at 7 p.m. CLICK HERE to join the group in order to participate.
CLICK HERE to view Monday’s township council meeting in its entirety.