WEST ORANGE, NJ — For the fifth consecutive day, West Orange its saw an increase of less than 11 COVID-19 cases within the township, which now has 741 active cases and 141 deaths attributed to the coronavirus as of Monday morning, according to Mayor Robert Parisi.
Parisi noted that deaths are considered “active cases” until the investigation is complete.
According to the mayor, the total intake of COVID-19 cases in West Orange now stands at 1,129 with 52 cases being transferred to other municipalities and 336 cases being reported as either recovered or closed as of Monday.
The township saw five additional cases on Monday, and 11 residents are currently hospitalized with four of them being treated in intensive care units. Additionally, the mayor reported that 1,349 residents have tested negative for COVID-19 as of Monday morning.
Members of the West Orange Coronavirus Task Force, headed by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), recently provided updates on the local response to the pandemic and warned residents about a recent uptick in scams related to the health crisis.
“Unfortunately, when we have times of need, there’s always folks out there that are bad actors who want to take advantage of situations and advantage of the public,” said Council President Michelle Casalino.
West Orange Police Chief James Abbott alerted the public to some precautions they should be taking to prevent becoming targets of theft or being duped by scams.
Abbott explained that there has been an ongoing spike in burglarized vehicles throughout the state; and although the number of cases in West Orange has not been alarming, it has been enough to establish a “Lock It or Lose It” campaign to remind residents to lock their vehicles and remove all valuables.
“Please remember that most of the vehicles that are burglarized in West Orange—and everywhere in the country for that matter—are left unlocked and their valuables located in the vehicle,” the chief said.
Noting that unlocked vehicles are an “easy target,” Abbott added that victimized residents would “have a better chance of hitting the lottery than catching a crime like that in progress.”
“Fortunately, it hasn’t been that bad, although that’s one of the expected spikes and it’s one of the ongoing spikes around the state,” he said.
Abbott also explained that there are currently several scams trending across the country that West Orange residents may be susceptible to.
“Between text messaging, Emails and social media, there’s a number of phishing scams,” he said. “You may be told that someone you’ve been in contact with has tested positive, they want you to click the link. Don’t do it.”
He urged residents to be on the lookout for messages stating that the recipient “has the ability to claim [his or her] stimulus check from the IRS” or that appear be information about self-diagnosis protocols, cures, tests, ways to obtain protective personal equipment (PPE), etc.
“Don’t click the link,” said Abbott, adding that residents should also be wary of Emails about remote job openings or ones seeking personal information such as the recipient’s high school graduation year and other questions security questions typically used for bank accounts. “Don’t supply any of that, [and] never pay fees up front for any services, [such as] unemployment.”
The United States Postal Service has also expressed concern about general thefts of mail, especially in cases where mail is delivered to clustered box units like those found in apartment buildings, the chief noted.
“If you’re not getting your mail for some reason, please reach out to the United States Postal office right away,” he said.
Residents are encouraged to call the West Orange Police Department at 973-325-4000 with such concerns and to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
Fire Chief Anthony Vecchio also recently spoke about the West Orange Fire Department’s (WOFD) “preventative approach responding to this pandemic,” which he said has been generally same as with influenza or any other viral disease, but “with a different level of vigilance.”
Given the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19 at the start of the outbreak—including mode of transmission and its lifespan on different surfaces—Vecchio explained that the WOFD had to increase its use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the way that emergency vehicles were decontaminated had been modified.
“Early in the crisis, we had some difficulty with procurement of PPE and decontamination supplies,” he said. “However, with the help of the West Orange OEM and the county OEM as well as many of our committed vendors, we’re currently stocked to keep up protected for at least the next month.”
The fire department is still accepting donations of PPE and other items at the OEM at 25 Mount Pleasant Place.
Vecchio added that call volume has fluctuated over the past two months, with a notable uptick in the emergency response rate.
“We staffed an extra ambulance to compensate for the additional calls,” said Vecchio, adding that this addition has helped alleviate issues with stacked calls or when people are waiting to be helped.
In addition to noting that the majority of EMS responses since March 1 have been to the 11 long-term care facilities in West Orange, Vecchio also acknowledged that the fire department also had 23 members out at one point during the last two months. He stated that these 23 members either tested positive for COVID-19, were symptomatic or were isolated due to exposure. Most have returned to full duty, he said.
He urged residents once again to follow the guidelines and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the New Jersey Department of Health and the West Orange Health Department.
“If you are anyone in your family circle believes that they are symptomatic, as defined by the CDC, we ask that you contact your personal physicians first for direction,” he said. “If you believe your symptoms require being treated at a hospital, we ask that only patients who are non-ambulatory—meaning they can’t walk and are without a means of transport—call 911. The overall goal here is to limit the exposure of the virus to others, and that includes our emergency responders.”
Essex County Public Information Director Anthony Puglisi also dropped into the meeting to answer questions from the public. In response to local inquires about testing, Puglisi explained that state health officers are “discouraging municipalities from conducting their own screening sites because of the lack of PPE [and test kits].”
He added the county has been conducting tests at Weequahic Park in Newark since March 26 and will continue to do so by appointment only until further notice. He directed residents to the county website for more information about this and other COVID-19 testing sites.
As of Monday morning, there were a total of 15,727 coronavirus cases in Essex County and 1,431 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Statewide, there is a total of 139,945 cases, an increase of 1,413 overnight, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. The three-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases in New Jersey is under 1,497, which is the lowest rate since March.