LIVINGSTON, NJ — As the total number of COVID-19 cases in Livingston increased to 320 and the number of related deaths increased to 35 as of 9 a.m. on Thursday, the Township of Livingston—in conjunction with the local VFW, Jewish War Veterans, American Legion and Memorial Day Committee members—announced that all Livingston Memorial Day festivities have been canceled as a result of the global health crisis.

Although the ceremony and parade have been canceled, the township stated that residents “should still use the day to reflect and remember the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while in the military service of their country.”

“This was not an easy decision to make, but over concerns about the impact of COVID-19 and the safety of the participants and residents, it was the only appropriate decision,” said Mayor Rudy Fernandez, adding that this was a unanimous decision among all involved. “With so much uncertainty as to when and how the governor will lift the stay-at-home order, even if the parade or ceremony could be held, it would be difficult to decide how everyone could safely participate, and with some level of physical distancing still expected to be in place at the time, how to organize such an event.”

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Earlier this week, Livingston Township Manager Barry Lewis and Livingston Health Officer Lou Anello acknowledged that although the number of deaths being reported in Livingston seems alarming compared to other towns, many of the local deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities, where a high volume of at-risk individuals are living in close quarters.

“It’s a tragedy, but in terms of our numbers—if they seem a little skewed, and the number of deaths versus the number of cases seem much higher than the mortality percentages you hear out there—[it’s] because of the numerous facilities that we have that house nothing but the most vulnerable,” said Lewis, noting that the significant number of deaths associated with COVID-19 in Livingston, which is nearly 11 percent of the total as of Thursday, “has caused a lot of apprehension.”

During Monday’s Livingston Township Council meeting, which was live-streamed on Facebook, Anello said that Livingston had five coronavirus-related deaths over the weekend that were all affiliated with long-term care facilities.

Although he could not provide specific information about how many of the positive cases in Livingston are residents of assisted-living facilities, Anello indicated that 12 of the 26 deaths reported by 5 p.m. on Monday were residents of long-term care facilities.

“It’s very sad to see, but [these facilities are] isolating those patients, and some of those patients might have been infected more than 14 weeks ago and just have never recovered from that,” said Anello. “It’s very sad to see the statistics come through, but hopefully that will be going down as well.”

In response to inquiries from the council, Anello noted that the Essex County towns reporting a higher volume of COVID-19 cases are the municipalities that either have multiple assisted-living facilities or multi-family dwellings where people are “living in close quarters.”

As of 9 a.m. on Thursday, Essex County reported a total of 9,126 cases and 640 deaths. The cities of Newark and East Orange currently have the highest number of cases within the county, with 3,412 cases and 203 deaths reported in Newark and 900 cases and 59 deaths reported in East Orange.

In Livingston's neighboring towns, West Orange reported 603 cases with 67 deaths on Thursday while Millburn reported 96 cases with three deaths and Roseland reported 50 cases with six deaths.

According to Anello, the number of new cases being reported each day in Livingston has also been consistently lower over the last week, but the township is urging residents not to consider these encouraging statistics as a reason to let up on social-distancing measures.

“There are a lot of people out there that don’t even know that they’re positive, and this is why it’s so important for people to stay home and that it’s absolutely necessary that they social distance from each other,” said Mayor Rudy Fernandez. “It’s an important message to still get out there to people that even if the daily numbers are decreasing, it can very easily start to increase if we don’t follow all the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations a follow through on what we’re supposed to be doing.”  

Fire Chief Chris Mullin, who also serves as coordinator for Livingston’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), released a statement earlier this week asking all Livingston residents to continue practicing social distancing in order to flatten the curve even further. 

“Although we may be seeing a slight turnaround in the numbers regarding new cases, this is not a time to let our foot of the gas pedal,” he said in his statement. “We must all continue to practice social distancing to the greatest extent possible and wear a face covering when out in public places such as supermarkets, pharmacies, etc., gathering essential items.”

Mullin also reported this week that Livingston’s two largest long-term care facilities—CareOne at Livingston Assisted Living and Inglemoor Rehabilitation & Care Center—have recently received personal protective equipment from local and state entities.

“Supplies are coming, but they’re obviously backlogged with everything that’s going on nationwide,” he said, adding that Inglemoor received needed equipment from the federal government over the weekend and that the county assisted in providing 800 surgical masks and a container of hand sanitizer to CareOne.

Anello also shared another encouraging local statistic, noting that many of the COVID-19 patients who have been isolating at home have recovered and were recently released from quarantine.

Lewis confirmed that there have been no COVID-19 cases reported among township employees and that “morale is still as high as it can be.” He reiterated that all township offices remain closed to the public until further notice.

During his report, Anello made sure to acknowledge his staff as well as the licensed professionals who have been volunteering their time to helping with contact tracing when new cases come in.

He also reminded residents that the governor’s recent executive order mandates all New Jersey residents to wear protective masks in public areas.