LIVINGSTON, NJ — Following Gov. Phil Murphy’s most recent executive order requiring the outdoor use of face masks in certain scenarios in response to the nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases, the Township of Livingston provided an update on the local response to the pandemic and addressed this week’s uptick in Livingston’s totals.

Although official data fluctuates by a few cases each day as the addresses of COVID-19 patients are updated in the state and county systems, Livingston’s case total has remained steadily around 500 active cases since the beginning of July. Township Manager Barry Lewis also reported on Wednesday that Livingston saw its first COVID-19-related death in several weeks, bringing the municipality’s total to 69 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

“Things have really stabilized at least locally,” said Lewis, adding that the handful of new cases being seen each day is largely reflective of increased testing. “This was the first change in several weeks in terms of the deceased, but the overall case count has pretty much flattened out down to a handful a day, so that’s encouraging. As we and the state begin to reopen more, we’ll keep a careful watch on that.”

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Lewis also confirmed during Wednesday's township council meeting that the deceased individual was a resident of one of Livingston’s long-term care (LTC) facilities, causing the council to inquire about an updated breakdown of LTC versus residential COVID-19 cases.

According to the most recent breakdown provided by the township on May 19, approximately 64.5 percent of the nearly 460 cases at the time were from LTC facilities while about 78.5 percent of the 65 total deaths contributed to the coronavirus in Livingston were residents of LTC communities. 

Although these percentages have remained generally the same over the last few months, Lewis stated that he would provide updated statistics in the coming days in response to the recent flare-up of cases nationwide and an increased volume of inquiries among residents in Livingston. 

Council members specifically noted that parents with young children have questioned the age range of positive COVID-19 tests being reported among Livingston residents as they continue to make summer plans.

The council also reiterated the need to publish local data more frequently, as the county and state data is constantly changing. According to Essex County, this fluctuation occurs because "cases are continually entering the system and local health departments may reassign place of residence as appropriate during their investigations."

“While we were all hoping it was just completely down, now as it starts to spike back up, I think it’s appropriate to start to get more of the information out daily,” said Lewis.

Additionally, Lewis announced that the township is looking to re-open town hall as early as next week, as the municipal building now has Plexiglas equipment as well as a circulation plan in place, hand sanitizer in every department and social-distancing stickers on the floors in order to ensure the safety of all visitors.

He said he anticipates making a formal announcement on the subject in the coming days.  

“Obviously this would not include any events or any large gatherings; this is purely for the public to come in and conduct business at the windows,” he said. “Council meetings, planning board meetings and things of that nature I think are still a little bit down the road until we figure out how we might do that and what type of crowds we might anticipate.”

The township has also been compiling information in order to submit its first request for reimbursements under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will provide federal funding to each county be divided among the municipalities to address the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“All of the department heads have been very good about getting me information on not only the out-of-pocket expenses on things they’ve incurred relative to COVID-19, but also, one of the eligible areas that we can recover is for if we had employees who had to quarantine due to exposure and while they were testing, etc.,” said Lewis. “The funding eligibility actually goes through the end of the year, so there are three different periods that you can submit for, and we will be submitting for those.”

In the event of a potential second wave of COVID-19, Lewis stated that Livingston’s action plan will remain largely the same.

Although the township is working to ensure that LTC facilities are better prepared for this eventuality and that these facilities as well as other departments are fully stocked with protective equipment, Lewis stated that the township would once again rely on guidance from the governor and local health officials and will consider shutting down again if necessary.

In the meantime, the council reiterated that the governor’s latest executive order will be enforced within the township, meaning that all residents are expected to wear face coverings in public both indoors and outdoors whenever social distancing is not possible.

“We want to get [our case number] to zero and keep it at zero, so everyone should keep social distancing,” said Mayor Rudy Fernandez. “If you’re not quite sure if you’re social distancing, you’re not. Put your mask on. I think this is really the best practice to follow.”

More information on the breakdown of Livingston’s case totals will be provided as it becomes available.

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