SOMERSET, NJ – As state and local authorities continue to work to control the outbreak of COVID-19, Franklin Township advanced an ordinance on first reading Tuesday night that outlines quarantine and isolation procedures in the township. TAP here to read the ordinance. 

The legislation was recommended by Dr. Namitha Reddy, the county health officer and director of the Somerset County Department of Health, which also serves as the health department for Franklin Township and seven other towns in the county.

The ordinance comes from a state law on communicable diseases that governs everything from vaccination policy to how diseases like Ebola, measles and coronavirus are managed. The model rules that the township advanced were written by the state Communicable Disease Service of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

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“The language comes straight from the model rules for boards of health from the state health administrative code,” Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said on Tuesday. “So it’s not something that our health officer came up with on her own, it comes straight from the model rule from the state.”

County officials said they recently noticed Franklin lacked the law, which prompted Reddy to recommend Franklin Township take action.

“The county health officer, Dr. Reddy, while checking through the paperwork found out that Franklin was not in compliance and suggested to their board of health to be in compliance with state of New Jersey Department of Health standards that they have this policy in place,” Somerset County Administrator Michael Amorosa said on Friday. “It's nothing out of the ordinary, but all towns should have this place. It’s a paperwork thing that was not in place in Franklin. And coincidentally, it happens to have happened right in the middle of a current public health crisis.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, officials expressed doubt about the necessity of the measure. Township Attorney Louis Rainone said at the time that he believed Gov. Phil Murphy declaring a state of emergency on March 9 and other state and county powers would suffice.

“I questioned our need to do it because of the governor’s executive order, and this power already exists in the county health department,” he said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “But...because things are moving so quickly, my recommendation is to introduce this. I am not certain that, once again, we need to do this.

“That having been said, if we didn’t introduce this now and the country said ‘No, you really need it and we have an issue,’ it would be a month before we could adopt it so I would rather introduce it and hold it at the next meeting than not introduce it today. So this comes under the category of an abundance of caution.”

The ordinance will be up for public comment and final passage at 7 p.m. on March 24.

State health officials announced on March 14 that it identified 19 new cases, bringing the statewide total of positive cases to 69. The new cases include seven in Bergen, seven in Middlesex, two in Essex, two in Hudson and one in Monmouth counties. Somerset County has one positive test result, according to state data available on March 14.

However, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco issued a statement the same afternoon reporting the county’s total number of cases as 31, six more than the state’s count, which could raise the total number of positive cases in New Jersey to 75.

On Friday, Franklin Township Public Schools announced the cancellation of sports and extracurricular activities and that schools will be closed until March 18. On March 19, the district will transition to remote learning at least until an update is provided via phone blast on March 20. Superintendent John Ravally wrote in a letter sent home with students that the district will rely on remote learning as long as necessary but expects to keep kids home until at least March 20.

Remote learning days will count towards the 180 days schools need to be in session for the year.

Ravally also wrote that students who qualify will be able to receive a “grab and go” breakfast and lunch on remote learning days. The bagged meals can be picked up between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at Elizabeth Avenue School, Hillcrest School, Pine Grove Manor School and the Hamilton Street Campus of Franklin Middle School.

On Tuesday, Vornlocker urged residents to utilize township services remotely whenever possible to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

“If you have an issue that you want to raise with the police or with the clerk’s office or with the assessor’s office, I would encourage you to do that over the telephone if at all possible rather than in-person visits simply because we’re going to try to limit those person-to-person contacts as much as we can,” he said. “You don’t have to come here to pay your taxes, you can put them in the mail, you can pay them online and you can drop them in the collection box out in front of the police station.”

“We’re going to continue to provide governmental services for as long as we can – and hopefully that’s forever,” said Vornlocker. “We’re going to do everything in our power to protect our employees and our citizens.”

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