Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of a video of Bernards Mayor James Baldassare addressing concerns about the COVID-19 virus that was released on Tuesday, March 17, on the Bernards Township website. On Monday, Bernards Township announced that the municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane and other municipal offices will be closed, although staff will be on site (or working remotely) and available via phone or email.
Hello, for those of you who do not know me, my name is Jim Baldassare and I have the honor of serving as your Mayor here in Bernards Township.
I want to reach out to you personally about the events of the past few weeks. This rapidly evolving outbreak of COVID-19 and its unprecedented global ramifications have been deeply concerning, and we are all taking it week by week. First and foremost, we hope that you and your loved ones are able to remain safe and healthy.
As your mayor, the health, safety, and well-being of Bernards Township residents has always and will remain my primary concern as well as that of the Township Committee and entire municipal staff. Over the last few weeks, we have seen the coronavirus evolve from a regional outbreak in China to the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic outbreak. The circumstances have been evolving rapidly, and one of the most important things is to stay informed. One of the best sources of information is our very own Bernards Township Health Department and the alerts they provide. I want to personally thank our Health Officer, Lucy Forgione and her wonderful staff at our Board of Health. They continue to keep in contact with other municipalities, Somerset County, NJ State and the CDC, and are immediately relaying and providing new details as they come up. I encourage everyone to visit the Board of Health website (http://www.bernardshealth.org/HDDocuments/HealthAlerts/HealthAlerts.pdf) for additional information and continued updates.
Bernards Township is committed to being as open and transparent with you as possible regarding the outbreak of COVID-19, the precautions you should follow and the steps your elected officials and municipal staff have taken to mitigate the risks of the virus spreading. I would like to update you on the precautionary actions Bernards Township has taken and remind you of the simple steps you can take to protect your family, friends and neighbors. I hope this message will provide clarity and reassurance as we deal with this evolving situation.
It is crucial that we heed the mitigation practices of sound hygiene and social distancing. Good hygiene dictates that we frequently wash our hands, not touch our face, and forego unnecessary close personal contact. Social distancing is the practice of remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance.
In response to the threat of the virus spreading and to reduce the risk and promote social distancing, our Municipal staff has instituted the following actions with regard to Township business and operations:
We have revised the website to include a new landing page for Covid-19 updates from all departments. On it we communicate to residents that you do not have to come into our Municipal offices to conduct business. We list by Department and ways to email or call or use portals. We strongly recommend that residents refrain from coming to Municipal Buildings and utilize contactless ways of communication provided on the webpage.
We have put signage on our buildings outlining the same.
We identified critical personnel and they have the ability to access computers and town landlines from home. This will allow the continuous access to our staff regardless of where they are.
We will be installing drop boxes for dropping off payments. One will be for tax payments and one for the Municipal court.
We will be reaching out this week to modify non urgent inspections to reschedule or to do only exterior inspections thereby eliminating the need for us to come into your home.
Our buildings are currently open. But given the fluidity of the situation we may close the buildings to the public this week. We have noted that very few people are walk ins and thank residents for their cooperation in utilizing alternate methods of communication. We intend to continue to staff our buildings and provide essential functions while encouraging social distancing.
In the upcoming days /weeks we may split workers shifts, departments, and crews to try to ensure if exposed or quarantined we still have the ability to perform critical functions. This may include working from home.
We are in this together for the long haul and will need to utilize staff with the probability of exposure well beyond the next couple of weeks. So continuity of operations is critical and these needs have been identified in order to ensure we can continue to provide service to our residents.
To further protect our children, the Bernards Township Board of Education (BOE) has declared that the Bernards Township schools will be closed for the next two weeks. I would encourage all of our affected residents to visit the Board of Education’s website for further updates and additional information on all school related activities. http://www.bernardsboe.com/
Going forward, to stay informed, please visit the Township, Board of Health and Board of Education websites. And if you didn’t know and are not already aware, Bernards Township has launched our own emergency RAVE system. This allows our residents to sign up for immediate alerts on various topics and updates of your choosing. Again, I encourage all of our residents to do the same and you can sign up by visiting the Bernards Township website. We will continue to monitor information from the County, state and CDC and provide information to you in the most-timely fashion possible. Additionally, if there is an immediate emergency, there is a 24- hour hotline at 908 203-6014 (Somerset County residents).
One of the things we will be working with staff on immediately, is reaching out to our senior community and those that are most vulnerable to this virus. As there are a lot of people who do not have access to online services, or who are not too tech savvy, we will be coordinating efforts to make sure our senior community have current Covid-19 and emergency information on hand so they can be as prepared as possible and practice the steps that have been outlined to help keep us all safe.
These are clearly challenging times. Our ability to weather any storm is dependent upon our ability to remain calm, informed and to continue actively practicing the steps that have been laid out for us to minimize the spread of this new virus. I have every confidence in our Township OEM and our brilliant staff who have continued to take the necessary steps ensuring Bernards Township is doing all that we can for all of our residents as things move forward. This will not change. Please make sure you adhere to the CDC recommendations which are listed on our Board of Health website. Share facts – Not Fear. If we stay vigilant, practice the necessary safeguards and remain calm, we will all see this through to it’s completion. This too shall pass. Everyone stay safe and God bless you all. Thank you.
Very sincerely yours,
Bernards Township Mayor