To the Editor:
The Westfield Board of Health met on Jan. 13 for its annual reorganization meeting. Two new members, Brendan Bertsch and Daniel Halevy, MD, and one new alternate member, Zoe McKelvey, Esq, were appointed by the Mayor with approval of Town Council. Bill Diamantopoulos, MD, Sharon Dorry, RN, Steven Gorelick, Ph.D., Andrea Fleisch Marcus, PhD, and Elizabeth Talmont, APN, continue to serve as members. The Board elected me as President and Dr. Marcus, Vice President. We also thanked Thomas K. O’Neill, Denise Rizzolo, PhD, PA, and David Weinman, DMD, who served on the Board last year.
The Westfield Regional Health Department is a successful example of municipal cooperation between Westfield and seven of our neighboring communities, including Chatham Borough, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Summit. The Board approved the budgets and contracts for the Health Department to continue to provide essential public health services to the 110,000 people who live here.
In 2019, Westfield residents had 211 newborn babies, almost the same as in the previous year. There were 79 marriages among residents, 13% more than in 2018, and two remarriages. Another 66 marriages occurred in town among nonresidents. One-hundred-seventy-nine residents died, a decrease of 21 or 11%.
Seven residents were reported with Lyme disease in 2019, which is less than half of the previous year. Food-related diseases appeared to increase. Campylobacter and salmonella each infected 11 residents and E. coli, giardia, and shigella infected five residents each. Six residents were reported with pertussis (whooping cough), six with hepatitis C and five with hepatitis B. No residents had measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria or tetanus.
The use of nicotine-addicting products among children is exploding, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention. E-cigarettes were the most commonly ever used tobacco product among high school and middle school students overall. In response to this recognized danger to children, the Board unanimously passed on first reading Ordinance #1-2020. This will specifically regulate the sale of electronic smoking devices in town, primarily to eliminate their use by children. The proposed ordinance will be considered and voted on again at our Feb. 3 meeting, to which the Westfield community is invited.
Influenza is now widespread throughout New Jersey and two children have already died from it. The seasonal influenza vaccination campaign is underway. A simple vaccination can help prevent the flu. Good health habits, like covering your cough, washing your hands and staying home from school or work when sick, can also help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. Residents can find information on influenza and local vaccination sites at the health department’s website https://www.westfieldnj.gov/health.
The Health Department will vigorously continue its childhood and adult vaccination programs, school immunization audits, retail food inspections and public health education activities. Two public schools were audited in December for vaccination program requirements and both had 100% compliance.
The Board reiterated its strong support for the statewide elimination of the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations to attend school. We greatly appreciate the efforts of Megan Avallone, who is our Health Officer and also the President of the NJ Association of County and City Health Officials, for her courageous leadership to protect children from vaccine-preventable deadly communicable diseases throughout the state.
In 2019, the Board had nine court cases. Most concerned retail food establishments or tobacco sales to minors. In each, the health department’s actions were upheld by the court, resulting in total fines of $4,500, plus $297 in court costs.
Information about all the Health Department’s activities, including helpful health-related advice and recommendations, such as concerning e-cigarettes and screening programs, and free education programs, is available at https://www.westfieldnj.gov/health. Recent topics in the department’s monthly newsletter, Your Health Matters, include healthy sleep, exercise and cervical health. It is available on the department’s website in the January Newsletter tab. You can sign up to receive health department information at https://www.westfieldnj.gov/townupdates.
The complete minutes of the Jan. 13 Board meeting will be posted after review and approval at our Feb. 3 meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building. As always, the public is invited to attend.
Lawrence D. Budnick, MD, MPH
President, Westfield Board of Health