WEST ORANGE, NJ — Representatives of the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE), West Orange municipal government, West Orange police and fire departments and the local Office of Emergency Management convened on Friday for a meeting hosted by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Cascone to discuss strategic initiatives and combine resources toward working closely together on a single front during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The primary issues talked about [during the meeting] were the sharing of resources and discussion of best practices regarding CDC guidelines,” said Township Information Officer Joseph Fagan. “It helped assure that lines of communication between all parties will remain open and unified during this unprecedented challenge to the local community.”

This publication will continue to post timely updates as information related to COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold.

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In the meantime, the Township of West Orange, WOBOE and County of Essex continue to announce precautions being made to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, including canceling certain events and programs and offering tips and services to ensure the community’s health and safety.

West Orange Public Schools (WOPS):

Although the district has not been provided with a written directive from the state health department to close the schools, Cascone stated on Friday night that after meeting with various agencies, it became clear that many community members would be uncomfortable sending their children to school on Monday, March 16. However, since he also feels a responsibility to ensure that “all students have a goodwill access to the services” provided through WOPS, Cascone has announced that the district will be shifting its spring break to next week in order to allow more time to prepare for a potential remote-learning situation.

“In this way, regardless of whether the governor or state department of health directs to close our schools, we will be in compliance,” he said. “Not only will this break enable us to quarantine our facilities for 11 days, but it will also give our administration and our teachers the same amount of time to ensure that if and when we must convert to a virtual schooling model, we—the professionals and our community members—are as prepared as possible and more comfortable to do so.”

Although WOPS has worked hard over the last two weeks to prepare the district’s transfer to a virtual model and to answer “many of the questions relative to how this would get done,” Cascone said there are still several key logistics that need to be ironed out, such as how and where the students eligible for free and reduced lunch will be able to still obtain this food and how to “zero in on all of those households” that do not have Internet or computer access.

“Further, while we have hardcopy packets developed to go home to those households, the massive job of reproducing hundreds of multi-page packets and either distributing them to those households or placing them in central locations still needs to be done,” he said in a message to parents on Friday. “Finally, from a social-emotional standpoint at this time of uncertainty and even anxiety, to thrust our students, teachers and families into the situation next week whereby, not only with the many seeking alternative childcare or asking others to care for their children, now we are asking them to embark upon an entirely new endeavor and enterprise with the learning.”

Cascone reiterated that the district has built “a comprehensive e-learning platform for all schools and all teachers” and that all staff members have been trained on how to use it and have begun to build out their content for those sites in the event that WOPS moves to a virtual model after next week.

If it becomes necessary to remain closed going into the week of March 23, Cascone stated that e-learning, or “tele-schooling,” will begin on Monday, March 23.

Beginning on Monday, the schools will be closed for the entire week as follows:

March 16: Snow Day

March 17 to March 20: Spring Break

Video Message from West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi:

Although the early signs of spring and spring weather mixed with newfound free time from canceled commitments and unexpected school vacations might typically encourage residents to get out of the house, to run errands, or to make plans for gatherings of friends, Mayor Parisi is reminding residents that CDC guidelines and recommendations from federal, state and local authorities urge all citizens to practice "social distancing" and to avoid contact with large groups and to avoid contact with as many people as possible.⁣

"Enjoy the time off, but stay home, do spring cleaning, read a book, watch a movie, or just enjoy time with your family," he said. "Working together to flatten the curve."

Parisi also published THIS VIDEO to keep to communications open with all residents. 

West Orange Public Library (WOPL):

WOPL Director Dave Cubie announced on Saturday morning that the doors will be closed to the public but staff will be on site Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until March 29, at which point the board will reassess the situation. Staff will be available to answer any questions via telephone (973-736-0198), Email (ref@westorangelibrary.org) and social media.

“This decision was not made lightly, but we did not think it was ethical to stay open,” said Cubie. “The majority of our staff meet the standards for a population at risk and there is no way that we can otherwise enforce social distancing. 

“Although there are not cases in West Orange and the actual risk may be minimal, the panic among staff when I met with them yesterday afternoon was palpable; many of them also have at-risk family members at home as well…In combination with the school closing, we anticipated high traffic as a result from our children and the populations of neighboring communities as well. We felt that this created an unacceptable risk for the staff and public at this time.”

West Orange Houses of Worship:

Some houses of worship have announced either canceling their services or moving them online, while others plan to hold services as scheduled.

The Life Christian Church (TLCC) in West Orange, for instance, is taking extra precautionary steps for Sunday services, such as having extra hand sanitizer locations installed and increasing sanitization routines for all high-touch surfaces. The church is currently promoting its online video streaming of Sunday services as an option to serve those who are either at risk or hesitant to attend larger public gatherings.

"We're seeing a lot of people share in uncertainty and anxiousness as news surrounding the coronavirus develops," said Terry Smith, founder and lead pastor at TLCC. "We want to make sure no one misses out on the message of hope and love of Jesus Christ."

Kenny Jahng, a spokesman for TLCC, added that the church is encouraging social distance for anyone who chooses to attend upcoming services in person, such as the ones being held in Paramus and West Orange this weekend.

"Usually, on Sunday, you want everybody to move up to the front row, but this time we want everybody to use as much space as they can for social distancing," said Jahng, noting that TLCC has also been complying with all CDC guidelines, such as wiping down frequently touched surfaces. "We don't want to put anyone at risk. If you don't feel well, we want you to stay home, and we will live stream services at 9 and 11 a.m. on Sunday. We are reconfiguring the website so that it's updated, and it will make it very easy to find the live stream."

A list of West Orange houses of worship and links to each can be found on the township website at https://www.westorange.org/967/Houses-of-Worship.

Essex County Events Postponed; Turtle Back Zoo, Codey Arena, Environmental Center, Golf Courses Closed

Turtle Back Zoo, Codey Arena, Essex County Golf Courses and senior buildings in the Essex County Parks System will be closed to the public for two weeks, and public events—including two popular activities that are part of the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival—will be postponed.

“We are taking precautions in order to keep our residents safe and prevent any possible exposure to coronavirus,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “One of the ways to reduce the spread of the virus is to prevent community spread by avoiding large gatherings such as races and festivals.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that our residents feel safe. I encourage the public to follow CDC precautions and wash your hands after using the restroom, coughing or sneezing, and after coming in contact with frequently touched surfaces.”

The following Essex County events have officially been postponed:

  • The Annual State of the County Address on Monday, March 23
  • Census Day at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29
  • The Cherry Blossom Bike Race in Essex County Branch Brook Park on Saturday, April 4
  • The Cherry Blossom 10K Race in Essex County Branch Brook Park on Sunday, April 5

Other precautions of note being taken at Essex County offices and institutions include the following:

  • Additional procedures have been implemented at all county facilities and buildings to enhance the cleaning and sanitizing of offices and areas where the public gathers, such as waiting rooms.
  • The visitation schedule at the Essex County Correctional Facility has been modified. Also, additional measures to medically screen detainees entering and being released from the ECCF have been implemented.
  • The visitation schedule and outside passes for patients at the Essex County Hospital Center have been suspended.
  • Clients dropping off forms, applications or other documents at 18 Rector Street or 50 South Clinton Street are being asked to mail them, send them electronically or deliver them to drop boxes in the office.
  • Additional procedures have been implemented to clean and sanitize the vehicles that are part of the Essex County Special Transportation program and partnerships have been created with companies like Uber and Lyft to provide additional transportation options if it becomes necessary.
  • The congregate meal program offered by the Division of Senior Services as part of the Senior Café in the Park program and at other locations throughout the County have transitioned to a “grab and go” format and, in some cases, to home-delivered meals.