CALDWELL, NJ — In a virtual Zoom video chat streamed on Facebook Wednesday night, the Borough of Caldwell mayor and council joined other local leaders who are at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic to update the community on how the rapidly spreading disease is affecting the local community.

Despite technical errors caused by the volume of residents attempting to view the meeting on Wednesday evening, Mayor John Kelley reported that by Thursday morning the borough was able to increase its licensing agreement to allow for up to 500 entrants into future virtual chats.

Residents had the opportunity to ask questions after reports from Mark Giuliano, Director of Office of Emergency Management (OEM); Health Officer Mike Fitzpatrick; Fire Chief Andrew Pollara; Police Chief James Bongiorno; David Black, captain of the West Essex First Aid Squad; and Maria Burak, director of Health, Welfare and Senior Services.

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Guiliano provided a brief historical perspective of the borough’s response to the pandemic.

Beginning on March 13, progress of the virus was discussed with a local emergency-planning consortium that was inclusive of representatives from the public and private sector. On March 19, department heads and business administrator Tom Banker created contingency plans to be implemented if need be within the borough. Since that time, there have been daily conferences to discuss protocols, initiatives and concerns.

Guiliano stated that one of the biggest concerns was the ability to provide personal protection equipment (PPE). He added that the community has donated many items, and all members are working double shifts.

“We are ready to handle anything that comes our way,” said Guiliano. “I would like to thank all of the department coordinators, the administration and the borough council for their continued support.”

As of 9 a.m. on Saturday, the Borough of Caldwell had 32 laboratory-confirmed cases and two deaths related to COVID-19. Guiliano said he expects these numbers to continue to increase as more and more residents are tested.

“We are behind the curve right now, but that depends on how quickly this spreads,” said Guiliano, who also noted that he receives updates from the county’s OEM office every night by 8 p.m.

Bongiorno thanked all department heads and municipal employees for their efforts, noting that the borough has “an incredible system in place.”

He reported that the police cars are sanitized daily and that the department of public works employees have been diligent and thorough in their efforts to continually sanitize the police station.

Bongiorno also reported that there have only been a few instances of police having to enforce the safe-distancing mandate, but noted that many people “did not understand the order itself.”

He added that officers will begin issuing summonses “if they have to” as per direction from the Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. He also reminded residents that all parks and playgrounds are closed to the public. He encouraged community members to continue to exercise outside, but to avoid meeting and congregating with friends.

The chief reiterated that the department is operating normally and will respond as usual to any emergencies that arise.

He stressed social distancing is adhered to among the officers, who are provided PPE when responding to call. Depending upon the nature of the call, however, the chief said there are certain situations where officers cannot practice social distancing. 

Bongiorno concluded his remarks by cautioning residents to be mindful of the fact that many people will “continue to take advantage of the situation and that there are a lot of scams via email and telephone.”

Black thanked the community at large for its continued support and the West Essex First Aid Squad’s (WEFAS) 85 active members, who he said are appreciative of the recent meal drop-offs from local restaurants. According to Black, meals for on-duty members are now secured well into May.

The captain reported that WEFAS has recently been receiving approximately 17 calls per day compared to the typical average of six or seven calls. He cautioned that anyone with symptoms does “not want to go to the hospital if they are mild,” but that the squad will transport residents to any hospital that is able to accept new patients.

Black also said he receives updates as to where patients may be transported, adding that Mountainside Hospital in Montclair currently has four floors devoted to COVID-19 patients. Black that doctors are currently suggesting that all residents drink plenty of fluids and that those with suspected symptoms use Tylenol, but not Ibuprofen, as Ibuprofen appears to accelerate the virus.

In his own report, Pollara remarked that “business as usual has continued,” stating that the fire department is “here for you 24/7” and cautioning residents to only dial 911 in a case of emergency.

Fitzpatrick reported that his office is continuing to track those who have been in contact with residents who have tested positive to offer guidance and provide information. He stressed to help “minimize the spread” by isolating and monitoring to help slow the curve of the spread. He stated it was important to stay “in the family unit as a best practice and to stay with your family to break the chain of the spread.”

Burak added that it is important to “remain vigilante and to adhere to guidelines” available on www.Covid19.nj.gov

She said her department has been working with organizations to get food delivered to homebound seniors and the food pantry is open every day from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. The senior citizen bus service is available every Wednesday beginning at 6:30 a.m. and if anyone needs a ride to the supermarket call 973-226-5108.

Each of the speakers also addressed questions from the public—the bulk of which were related to social-distancing measures within the retail stores.

Primarily referenced were Jacks Foodtown Supermarket, ShopRite of West Caldwell and the ShopRite liquor store. One resident suggested that the stores create “one-way” aisles in an attempt to prevent shoppers from crossing paths.

One resident asked for clarification as to what was allowable for his teenage son, such as riding a bicycle, walking the dog or simply taking a walk.

Bongiorno clarified that there was “no problem with exercise” and that “walking dogs is certainly allowable,” but that residents should not be doing so in groups.

Councilman Jonathan Lace, who moderated the discussion, concluded the meeting stating that the borough intends to have a weekly virtual meeting. He added that the Borough of Caldwell will “get through this and work together as a community.”

Council President Christine Schmidt added that the meeting was “very productive, in spite of some technical issues,” and said she was thrilled that the mayor was able to increase the license so that the council “can reach more people next time.”

“I'd like to thank Jonathan Lace for putting this together and allowing our team to share updates with our entire community,” she said, noting that this was the first of these updates. “The mayor and council have been working hard to keep our community informed during this very challenging time. People don't have to wait for our Zoom programs; they can always feel free to Email us with any questions or concerns.”