LIVINGSTON, NJ — Encouraged by the relatively “stagnant” total of COVID-19 cases reported in Livingston over the last few weeks, Livingston Township Manager Barry Lewis steered Monday night’s coronavirus update in a positive direction and focused on the next steps of reopening the township.
According to Essex County data, there have only been 20 additional cases reported in Livingston since May 20, bring the total to 486 as of Friday morning.
“All in all, it seems like things have stabilized, and I think that’s a credit to all the residents’ conscientious efforts to social distance, to stay at home and to do all the things they were told to do,” said Lewis, noting that the total had been increasing by double digits almost daily during the peak of the outbreak.
Lewis added that he has also been encouraged by the hard work of the Senior Youth and Leisure Services department in developing protocols, rules, regulations and best practices for implementing the recreational summer camp in July after Gov. Phil Murphy officially lifted restrictions for daycare centers, summer camps and non-contact youth sports.
“The board of ed has been very gracious,” said Lewis, stating that more than 70 Livingston families have already inquired about the camp since Murphy’s announcement. “That was a concern because we use a lot of their facilities and their grounds to hold the camps. But not only did they whole-heartedly support having the camps, they’ve actually made four schools [rather than the usual two] available so that we can have greater social distancing and smaller groups in the camps.”
He also mentioned that the township is preparing both community pools in the event that they are able to open this summer, but said the state has yet to provide guidance on the pools.
“Haines is actually full, up and running and being treated; and Northland is full and they’re doing some work on some of the pumps,” he said. “So both pools, from a physical standpoint, will be ready and prepared, but still no indication from the governor. [Murphy] has commented that pools are tricky, but we’ll be prepared to offer whatever level of pool service we can just as long as we get the green light.”
Murphy explained that one of the benefits to reopening summer camps and no-contact sports is that it gives kids the “opportunity to make memories.” He also cited the mental health benefits of camp, which can be an outlet for children who might be exposed to potential abuse at home.
“We’re going to learn an amount fairly quickly about what's working and what's not working as it relates to our wargaming back to school,” said the governor. “It’s not the reason we're doing it, but it is a side benefit from it.”
Reopening community pools, on the other hand, has become a challenging issue, according to Murphy. Some municipalities have asked the state to hold off on opening them, citing the “intensity of interaction,” he said.
“A couple of the shore mayors have said that if we want to get more geography to spread people over, we might want to do so in a club or near the beach,” said Murphy. “They’ve suggested this would give us a better, broader footprint and a better social distancing reality.”
Murphy agreed with the stance of more than 55 communities exhibiting caution opening their pools and clubhouses, although he said he did so without morbidity.
In Livingston, Lewis said employees are also preparing to open certain departments for in-person service in the coming weeks.
Noting that the plexiglass recently installed above the counter at the construction off has been success, Lewis stated that similar devices are currently being ordered for the other counters as well and that many departments will institute dividers or stickers on the floor to ensure that all visitors remain a safe distance apart.
“We’re preparing ourselves and our facilities to be able to reopen to the public safely. At this point, I think we’re probably two weeks out at least. [Murphy] indicated that some of their in-person offices may be opening on June 15, so I think that’s sort of the target and that will give us two more weeks to complete the installation of all these improvements and dividers and other things necessary to make it safe.”
During Monday’s council meeting, Police Chief Gary Marshuetz concurred with Lewis’ observation that most businesses have been compliant with all executive orders thus far.
Marshuetz added that all officers remain strong and healthy, which he credited to the fact that the department implemented certain procedures early into the local outbreak and to the level of compliance seen among residents.
“This really is a special community because they made our job easy with the executive orders. The problem is now there’s o many executive orders coming out that obviously we have to fully understand them and what their intent is. The good news is, if somebody’s affected by the executive order, they usually know about it before we even know about it, so they’re very much in tune with the executive orders that affect them personally.
“It’s nice to see things starting to open back up a bit. Our calls for service—obviously people are venturing out now—so we’re getting back to a normal routine and a normal call volume as well. That’s all encouraging stuff for us.”
He expressed that Livingston is currently “in a good place” and that he “hopes it continues to go down that road.”
As of June 15, recent executive orders will also allow day cares to reopen with certain restrictions.
Christine Norbut Beyer, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, recently offered insight on the reopening of daycare centers, youth day camps, pools and more, stating that the focus will be on establishing health and safety standards in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health organizations.
She noted that standards put in place for day care centers and camps may well set the stage when it comes to the reopening of schools. Among other things, parents have expressed concerns about social distancing and the requirements for children to wear masks.
“Right now, it’s not recommended as safe for child under the age of two to wear masks,” said Norbut Beyer, acknowledging the issues with requiring toddlers to wear protective equipment.
While the CDC recommends that children over the age of two wear masks, Norbut Beyer said her department will be talking with childcare providers concerning youngsters who want to remove them while the kids are in their care. According to Nobert Beyer, it is especially not recommended that little ones wear masks during nap time.
“We are concerned with staff touching them and replacing the masks, which could be riskier,” Nobert Beyer shared. “This may come down to individual children and whether they have the capacity to keep them on.”
Although residential and sleepaway camps are prohibited from opening this summer in New Jersey, the day camps being permitted to open after July 6 will be expected to adhere to the same standards as daycare centers.