MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Experts and municipal officials in charge of running South Orange and Maplewood’s pandemic response gathered for a Zoom town hall Sunday night to educate residents on best practices and misconceptions as COVID-19 continues its spike.

Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee warned that cases are skyrocketing as we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday weekend.

“November is twice as high in comparison to October and October was three times greater than September,” said Mayor McGehee.  

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Village President Sheena Collum expressed the severity of the coronavirus situation by revealing that the number of cases this month has already far surpassed April which had previously been the worst month.

 Dr. Khadijah Costley White led the panel of experts in their discussion and answered questions from residents about how they can try to stay healthy. The panelists were: Candice Davenport, Health Officer and Public Health Nursing Supervisor for Maplewood; Scott Egelberg, the Office of Emergency Management Coordinator and COVID-19 Response Coordinator for South Orange and Dr. Daniel Griffin, the Chief of Infectious Disease for ProHealth and Columbia University Professor.

The panelists began by debunking some COVID-19 misconceptions. Dr. Griffin spoke about the small outdoor enclosures that have become more popular as the weather changes. He warned that they can be even more dangerous than dining inside the restaurant itself.

“A lot of these bubble tents enclose an area and have absolutely no air exchanges,” said Dr. Griffin. He said that the majority of new positive tests are coming from people who have gone to a restaurant or a gym.

Candice Davenport warned residents about the dangers of breaking quarantine even after a negative test. 

“If you’ve been exposed we ask that you stay in a 14-day quarantine even if you tested negative because that test is only a test of that moment in time,” said Davenport. She also added that everyone who tests positive whether they are symptomatic or not must remain in 10-day isolation. 

OEM Coordinator Scott Egelberg emphasized the seriousness of COVID-19. He also refuted the idea that some people are less susceptible to the virus's more serious symptoms.

“Never assume that you’re too young or that it’s not going to affect you, because we haven’t yet realized how dangerous this disease can be depending on your age,” said Egelberg. 

He continued that age is not necessarily a determining factor that shows how vulnerable you are to the virus. The age range of those affected stretches all the way from toddlers to 90-year-olds.

Both Collum and McGehee added that they are constantly monitoring the situation and are hoping that they won’t have to impose a strict lockdown like the one Mayor Ras Baraka announced in Newark.

Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis pointed out that the uptick in Maplewood’s new cases have largely been due to indoor and outdoor gatherings at homes rather than from outdoor dining.

“It’s not worth it to have a party right now,” said Dafis. He went on to encourage residents to continue to support local restaurants and businesses because they are struggling right now and have been shown not to be major spreaders of the virus.

Essex County is currently leading the state with the most number of positive COVID-19 tests and the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

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