HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The County Board of Chosen Freeholders held a special meeting Tuesday, as director Shaun C. Van Doren announced that this meeting – the first-ever by telephone participation, he said – needed to take place this week and not wait until the scheduled date of April 7 “due to the immediacy of the county’s required response to the COVID-19 emergency.”

The freeholders authorized the county purchasing agent to work in consultation with county CFO Janet Previte to seek and acquire needed resources to combat the COVID-19 public health emergency.  A $100,000 emergency temporary appropriation, specified for COVID-19 response and preparedness, was added to the county’s temporary budget, which freeholders approved at their Jan. 6 reorganization meeting.

The county participates in daily briefings from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily briefings are monitored and summarized by Freeholder Board Clerk Brad Myhre for distribution to freeholders. Weeks ago, the Hunterdon OEM submitted resource requests through the state OEM to FEMA for 64,0000 additional units of PPE, and for a task force for a mass COVID-19 testing site in Hunterdon County.

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Last week, the freeholders directed OEM to request 5,000 test kits from FEMA in support of a request made by Hunterdon Healthcare.

“Hunterdon OEM has made a request to the state for ventilators for Hunterdon Healthcare, as ventilators are life-saving equipment that are in short supply everywhere,” Van Doren said. “The state OEM sent five ventilators to the (Flemington) hospital at no cost to the county or Hunterdon Healthcare.”

“To assist local first responders and healthcare providers, since February the County Health Department and OEM have gathered and provided 110,000 protective items to county first responders, Hunterdon Healthcare, our nursing homes, medical centers and health care providers,” he added. “There are no quick fixes, and we’re committed to providing resources we can to assist our municipalities, the business community and displaced workers. We will continue to press state and federal officials to provide the resources Hunterdon County needs to protect our residents and medical support.”

During public comments, Whitehouse Station resident Patrick Heller asked what specific conversations have been held to prepare a Coronavirus testing site in Hunterdon County.

Van Doren said at present there’s no timeline, but information from the Office of the Governor is key.

“We need test kits in order to make the testing center available,” he said. “Once we hear back from the governor’s office with regard to the possibilities, then we’ll be able to have a firmer timeline to know we’d have testing kits in order to do the testing,” he said.  

Heller asked if the county reached out to Rep. Tom Malinowski, or Sen. Cory Booker and John Menendez for federal-level help. Van Doren said there’s been multiple conversations with each of the officials’ offices.

“We’re working at it from multiple avenues and I’ve reached out to federal officials to meet Hunterdon County requests for test kits and PPE,” he said. “Today, the Warren County Freeholder Director Rick Gardner and I sent a request to Gov. Murphy asking for him to seek a federal COVID-19 in western New Jersey as he has done for South Jersey.”

The freeholder board also approved multiple resolutions supporting bipartisan State Assembly Bills to provide assistance to residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The resolutions we are voting on represent bipartisan state legislation, and all these bills are currently on Gov. Murphy’s desk and expected to be signed,” freeholder John Lanza said. “They have passed in both houses of the State Legislature, as people from both sides of the aisle have found a way of coming together to do things for the public at this time. It is important that the freeholder board express our support for what the state legislature is doing and urge the governor to sign them.”

Deputy director Sue Soloway enthusiastically made the motion for the board to offer its support of Assembly Bill 3841, for New Jersey to extend the State Income Tax and Corporate Business Tax filing date to match any extension of federal government tax filing deadlines.

On Tuesday, the board approved resolutions supporting Assembly Bill 3846, which appropriates $20 million in creating a “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program” to allow persons to claim for lost wages due to COVID-19, and for employers to pay wages to workers ordered under quarantine by a licensed healthcare practitioner.

Another resolution supports State Assembly Bill 3856, making a fiscal year 2020 Supplemental Appropriation of $10 million for healthcare and residential facility sanitation due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

A third resolution approved supports and encourages Murphy to sign Assembly Bill 3857 for a supplemental appropriation of $15 million in grants to food banks.

Freeholder Zach Rich announced that the county library branches will remain closed until May 1, at the earliest.

“If there is a change to that schedule, we will proudly announce that, but with social distancing in place, a conservative approach is the best policy,” he said. “During its closing, the library is offering remote, online and digital resources, and people can see what is available through use of the library’s website or via Youtube, Instagram and Facebook.”

Lanza said all county parks and trails remain open for public use, however all playgrounds, soccer fields and ballfields are closed and off limits for play “for the protection of our children, parents and in particular any grandparents and elder family members with whom they may live or come into contact with.”

Hunterdon County has 30 parks available to the public and 26 trail systems countywide, and Lanza noted that Columbia trails is probably the best-known, but often the most crowded. While parks and trails are a great asset to the residents, particularly right now, he urged residents to practice social distancing of 10 feet away at all times while enjoying the outdoor settings throughout Hunterdon County.

“We know that with so many families staying at home, there are both physical and mental health benefits for our residents to have local parks and grounds open,” he said. “The virus is highly contagious and people must recognize the seriousness of the situation and space out accordingly.”

“In addition to observing social distancing while walking through county parks, parking lots and trails, park rangers are part of that group of essential county employees who cannot work remotely and must be physically present,” he added. “The freeholder board would like to express sincere appreciation for the work our rangers do in county parks.”