UNION COUNTY, NJ — It has been almost a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and the Union County Board of Commissioners is still addressing the virus' lasting impacts.
At Thursday’s board of commissioners meeting, officials discussed the timeline for the county getting the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, provisions for a rising population of homeless people and monies to pay for the storage of corpses.
The county expects to receive doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine in three weeks, County Manager Edward Oatman said.
Commissioner Vice-Chair Rebecca Williams, who led the meeting in place of Chairman Alexander Mirabella, said New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy had visited the FEMA vaccination site in Elizabeth earlier in the week.
“The county has been assisting in this operation as part of our efforts to ensure that eligible residents have equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Williams, who encouraged people to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
While people of color have suffered outsized impacts of COVID-19 in New Jersey and nationwide, they have made up a small percentage of those vaccinated, something state officials have acknowledged with a “vulnerable populations plan” that calls for partnerships with community centers and places of worship to create vaccine clinics focused on specific communities.
County officials this week encouraged residents check the scheduling page of Union County’s website, which is updated as vaccine doses are made available through the county. It is among a series of places where eligible members of the public can sign up for the vaccine.
Those without computer or internet access can call the county’s vaccine help center at 908-613-7VAX (7829) Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., officials said. The hotline is aimed at supporting people 65 years of age and older, officials said.
Also on Thursday, Union County Human Services Director Debbie Ann Anderson presented a contract for mobile shower facilities for unhoused individuals, part of the board’s “Union County Rising” initiative, which includes responses to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Commissioners approved an $83,900 contract with Ready To Go Restroom Trailers, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, for the purchase of shower trailers. The program will include mobile laundry and shower facilities throughout the county, Anderson said.
Explaining a separate resolution, Anderson said one of the hotels being added to the countywide Code Blue Emergency Shelter Initiative, Ramada Inn, will take in COVID-19-positive unhoused people who need to be isolated. The Code Blue initiative provides shelter for those experiencing homelessness in freezing temperatures.
The pandemic’s impacts could be seen in everything from the approval of an $89,107 contract with Royal Printing Services for 127,500 bilingual vote-by-mail applications in the event that the election becomes all vote-by-mail as it was due to COVID-19 in 2020, to Director of Public Safety Andrew Moran mentioning the tents and heaters at the county’s vaccination clinic are acquired through a program that lets Union County police request excess Department of Defense equipment. The commissioners authorized the county to enter into that agreement with the DOD for that program.
The grimmest update of the night came when Director of Public Safety Andrew Moran explained that a $200,000 contract with Lehrer-Gibilisco Funeral Home, of Rahway, includes more funding than what the county typically budgets for the transporting and storing corpses.
“Our medical examiner’s office had a 500-case increase over the previous year,” Moran said. “During the height of the pandemic, body storage was a real challenge within the county.”
“We just wanted to put some cushion in there in case we needed the service,” he added.
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