BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The first meeting of the Bridgewater Township Council following the widespread onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) took on a somber tone when discussing those who had dealt with or even been lost to the pandemic.
The March 30 meeting, an audio-only gathering that was held over the Internet because of state restrictions regarding public gatherings, included a moment of silence for those who have been affected by the virus.
Councilman Michael Kirsh expressed condolences for the families “irreparably altered by this dreaded disease.” He said he hopes they find strength, and that they know they live in a supportive community.
Bridgewater Township has confirmed five COVID-19 related deaths as of Friday morning.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla also expressed his sympathies to those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“I truly believe we can survive this event, and look to a better future,” he said.
Kurdyla asked the residents of Bridgewater to please keep EMTs, police officers and firefighters in their prayers and thoughts, and he also thanked Mayor Matthew Moench and his staff for their leadership.
“I’m sure he never dreamed about this,” he said of when Moench was campaigning for the mayor position last year. “I tip my hat to you.”
Councilman Timothy Ring offered his sympathy, and also thanked everyone who is “on the front lines of the pandemic” for all they are doing. He also said that some town residents are looking for more information on those individuals who have been directly impacted by the virus so far, but added that the municipal government is bound by strict state requirements in releasing such information.
Ring added that the state’s attorney general has changed such standards for firefighters and EMTs, but that the new policy also carries “serious consequences” for violations.
“I urge everyone to stay home,” said Ring. “It’s the safest thing to do now.”
Ring also said the Somerset County Regional Animal Shelter is still in operation, including its animal control efforts, but is currently closed to pet adoptions.
Council vice president Filipe Pedroso said he echoed what his counterparts had said, and asked that people remain positive.
“We’re blessed to live in a country with the best of medical care and scientists,” he said. “God bless everyone, stay healthy and follow the social distancing guidelines.”
Council president Howard Norgalis asked for prayers and support in regard to the COVID-19 victims. He also asked the same for emergency workers, that they and their families will not become infected.
Moench offered his sympathies to those who have lost already someone to the virus.
“It was a hard week in Bridgewater last week,” he said, in combatting COVID-19 locally.
Regarding testing and the obtaining of accurate results, Moench said there have been some reporting delays as the township continues to track COVID-19 and release numbers. He also referenced e-mails that have been sent to the township, and comments made on social media about the information.
“There’s a lot of strict rules we have to follow on what we make public,” he said.
Moench added that sometimes the township doesn't have all the information on who has been infected, and that information is gathered and disseminated “as appropriate.” He added that staff have been working “around the clock” to get data to those who, by law, need to have it.
Moench thanked Director of Health and Human Services Christine Madrid and her staff for all their work.
“They’ve been unbelievable the last few weeks,” he said.
He also thanked township administrator Michael Pappas and deputy township administrator Wells Winegar, both of whom he said “kept the government up and running."
Moench said he participates in Somerset County’s daily calls concerning COVID-19, and in weekly calls with Gov. Phil Murphy. Besides health coordinators and first responders, the administration will also continue to reach out to stakeholders and critical care facilities.
Moench said there are questionnaires on the town website for businesses, regarding who is open and for what, along with information on enforcement of social distance parameters.
“We’re taking measures to protect our employees,” he said, referencing scheduling changes.
He also said that things have to get done in the municipality, no matter how long the current situation goes on, and that the township will continue to function.
Moench also thanked the Bridgewater Chinese American Association for its donation of N-95 filter masks, and added that he was in frequent contact with Bridgewater-Raritan Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick.
“There’s been plenty of communication,” said Moench.
He also asked residents to sign up for township e-mail communications, or to consult the township’s Facebook page for updates. He cautioned, however, that Facebook is not the most efficient means of contacting township personnel.
“It’s a means of communication,” said Moench, “but not for prompt responses.”
As of Friday morning, the township was reporting eight new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bridgewater, for a total of 71 cases to date.