WEST ORANGE, NJ — Assemblyman John McKeon and representatives of West Orange Township's emergency response team provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic during the first virtual meeting of the West Orange mayor and council earlier this week.
As of 9 a.m. on Friday, the Township of West Orange had 638 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 68 related to the virus, according to Essex County, which also reported a total of 9,656 cases across the county and 75,317 cases statewide with 3,518 deaths.
According to McKeon, the local numbers appear to be on trend with current models from the state, which currently indicate that approximately 90,000 residents, or about one percent of New Jersey’s population, are expected to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Although that’s another 20,000 individuals, we can see that we’re kind moving in the direction of starting to make a recovery, and that’s all because the social distancing is working,” McKeon said on Tuesday.
The assemblyman added that New Jersey currently expects to hit the peak of the curve around April 25. He noted that this is an encouraging statistic because trends currently indicate that the medical system should not be overwhelmed at the time the state hits its peak.
McKeon also shared that as a result of the crisis, tax day has now extended to July 15 and the primary election has been extended to July 7.
According to McKeon, landlords have been asked to be mindful of people who need to ask for a holiday from paying their rent in light of the pandemic. He encouraged residents to reach out to their bank or mortgage lender to ask for a 90-day hiatus if needed.
He also confirmed that individuals who are undergoing foreclosure or dispossession for not paying rent will not be affected until the crisis ends.
On the other hand, McKeon urged residents to still pay their property taxes by May 1, stating that the township relies heavily on the municipal funds and uses 90 percent toward essential services.
Although property taxes have been escrowed for at least 75 percent of the West Orange community, McKeon said the consequences from not collecting enough money will become apparent in July when budget season likely begins.
McKeon shared that the state is currently working on legislation to help residents so that late penalties can be whittled down or waived.
In West Orange, there are currently three available ways for residents to pay their property taxes: online at westorange.org, mailing a check to the municipal building at 266 Main Street or dropping the payment off in the drop box located in the back parking lot of town hall.
“Again, the state’s going to reassess that and maybe give the town the tools to try to have the ability to continue to function,” said McKeon, adding that he hopes the federal government will “make certain that there’s adequate dollars in NJ that’s going to filter down to the towns to make up that difference.”
McKeon encouraged residents and business owners to visit covid19.nj.gov for more information. He also noted that business owners with 500 or fewer employees can also visit faq.business.nj.gov to learn whether they are eligible for certain protections and programs.
The assemblyman invited residents to contact him directly at AsmMcKeon@NJLeg.org or 973-377-1606.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the local Office of Emergency Management (OEM) team presented an update about the day-to-day operations of the township’s coronavirus task force, which was created on Feb. 27.
Headed by OEM Coordinator Nick Allegrino, the coronavirus task force also includes members of the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE), the West Orange Police Department (WOPD), the West Orange Fire Department (WOFD), the Department of Public Works (DPW), the health department and several other municipal department heads.
According to Allegrino, the task force takes on the responsibility of writing daily updates, keeping track of contact tracing and coordinating with county and state officials, communicating with long-term care facilities and a host of other duties.
The team is currently investigating all confirmed cases within the township.
Susan Iovino, Senior Public Health Officer and Director of Nursing for the Township of West Orange, explained that cases cannot be reported until laboratory confirmation is received.
“Our best defense against the coronavirus is to stay home,” said Iovino. “Practice social distancing, including within our own families. Wear a mask if it’s absolutely necessary to travel outside your home. These simple measures are critical to help us flatten the curve.”
Health Officer Theresa DeNova added that residents should wash their hands frequently for 20 seconds, use sanitizer, follow guidelines for no gatherings and to seek the advice of a doctor if experiencing symptoms such as dry cough, shortness of breath or a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.
Senior Services Coordinator Laura Van Dyke also provided an update about support services that are available to residents and senior citizens during this time.
A hotline has been set up at 877-294-4357 provide remote grief counseling support for residents who have lost loved ones.
Urgent meal support for seniors, high-risk residents and those quarantined at home is also being supported through donations made to the Mayor’s Sunshine Fund. Thanks to these efforts, Harper’s Café, Fortissimo and Some Good Food have already helped to deliver more than 200 lunches to residents in need.
Van Dyke also mentioned that Cynthia Cumming, director of the Holy Trinity Food Pantry located at 315 Main Street, has helped make approximately 70 deliveries of groceries and non-perishable items, and volunteers have assisted in coordinating no-contact grocery deliveries through a service called Umbrella.
According to Van Dyke, both the Holy Trinity Food Pantry and Umbrella are currently seeking more volunteers.
Van Dyke also encourages residents to take advantage of free online programing, including “chair yoga” and other programs offered by the JCC.
“Our goal is to help people not feel so isolated and alone and to help link one another to resources or to each other and to be a voice on the other end,” she said.
Members of the township council thanked the coronavirus task force for its work in tracking cases and providing daily updates.
Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown also encouraged residents to continue supporting local businesses, including SuzyQue’s BBQ and Bar, which has provided more than 1,000 meals for first responders. Contact SuzyQue’s at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-736-7899 to learn more or to assist in these efforts.