Jersey City to Offer Free Corona Virus Testing to all Residents


Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced today increased efforts to offer COVID-19 testing by broadening efforts with expanded and targeting testing opportunities to all Jersey City residents.  To further the city’s efforts, the city will soon offer antibody testing.   A mobil unit will test vulnerable residents in senior living housing and public housing sites.

“As one of the most densely populated areas in the region, our efforts to make free testing available has proven effective,” said Stacey Flanagan, Director of Health and Human Services.  “Now we want to extend testing to as many people as possible, and adding antibody testing will really bolster the expansive health and safety efforts we’ve put in place since day one.”

Appointment-based testing will open to all Jersey City residents beginning next week.  Anyone requesting a test can call the COVID-19 Testing Call Center at 201-547-5535 seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Testing will continue Monday through Friday at the drive-through site located in the southwest portion of the city at 575 NJ-440.

In an effort to expand access to some of our most vulnerable residents, the walk-up testing site will operate on the rotating schedule below:

Mondays & Wednesdays – Outside Public Safety Headquarters located at 465 Marin Boulevard

Tuesdays – Mobile testing at various Jersey City Housing Authority locations

Thursdays – Mobile testing at various senior living facilities

Fridays – Mary McLeod Bethune Community Center located at 140 MLK Drive

 

 

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Viola S Richardson

Viola Richardson, Warrior for Jersey City


Viola Richardson’s Facebook page shows a photo of her with people of different ages in pink shirts emblazoned with “Team Viola.” Richardson stands behind them like a warrior as they prepare for a walk-a-thon for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Viola S Richardson

Courtesy Viola S. Richardson’s Facebook page

The picture speaks volumes. It exemplifies Richardson’s dedication to community service; it reveals her ability to unite people for the common good; and it shows her deep love for Jersey City, which inspired a long and fruitful career in community service and politics.

On Friday, April 10, former Jersey City police officer and Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson passed away from Covid-19 complications. She was 74. As the city mourns her passing, friends and colleagues are posting tributes to her on social media that speak of her activism, resilience and devotion to her community.

“Viola was the true embodiment of what Jersey City is all about,” Mayor Steve Fulop said. “She was a fighter, she was a public servant and she was a leader for the ward she passionately represented. I was fortunate to serve with Viola for eight years on the city council. This pandemic has taken too many people too soon, and the former councilwoman will be dearly missed by us all.”

Police Officer and Three-Term Councilwoman

Viola S. Richardson

Courtesy Viola S. Richardson’s Facebook page

In 1981, Richardson joined the Jersey City police department. She was one of 85 African American officers at the time and spent 21 years walking the beat. In 2001, she campaigned for a city council seat in Ward F on the same ticket as mayoral candidate Glenn Cunningham. She won and was re-elected in 2005 and again in 2009.

Appointed to the city council in 2017, Jermaine Robinson, who owns the Light Rail Café on Randolph and Union Streets, remembers when Richardson urged him to get involved in city politics.

“Viola was my first mentor,” Robinson says. “When they were looking for Ward F candidates, she approached me and asked would I want to serve the community. Viola was a no-nonsense person.  She wanted to know are you serious about community? Are you willing to give the time that’s needed to get the people of the community what they deserve?”

Richardson fought for the people of Jersey City every day, Robinson says.

“She was top dog. She would have remained there until she passed. It got tricky when she became at-large, but I don’t think anyone could beat Viola as Ward F councilperson. She did what she said, and she said what she did. She was a rock in the community, and we’ll miss her. I truly am following in her footsteps, and those are some big shoes to fill.”

In 2013, Steve Fulop took office as mayor, and Richardson lost her seat on the council. She told her constituents that night: “I’ve had an excellent run. I have served the citizens of Jersey City, and I have given them all that I have. I have done the best that I can do. I’m happy. Now I can go on vacation. I can do whatever I want … I can be grandma.”

A state delegate for the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and founding member and former president of the Concerned Citizen’s Coalition Richardson was the first woman president of the Inter-Departmental Minority Police Action Council in Jersey City.

A Pioneer in Community Engagement

With Rudy Snelling Jr.

With Rudy Snelling Jr., courtesy Viola S. Richardson’s Facebook page

Retired Jersey City police officer Rudy Snelling, Jr. recalled that as a police officer, Richardson got to know the residents and store owners on her beat.

“It was about visiting churches, going to Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings and visiting civic associations,” Snelling said. “The community saw you as a person, a friend, an aunt, uncle, not just a cop. Relations is having a relationship like ‘Hi, how are you, what’s the problem?’ Every cop is community relations, but community engagement is connecting, becoming an intricate part of that community, going to the neighborhood bakery when you’re not looking to purchase something and say, ‘how’s business?’.”

When Snelling joined the police force, he says, he would call Richardson for advice. When she retired from the police force, Snelling threw her a party.

“Viola would say we have not yet arrived,” Snelling says. “She would say, ‘When civilians see police officers as their friends and not as their enemy, then you’ve arrived.’”

Governor Phil Murphy took to Twitter and described Richardson as a warrior for Jersey City.

“Viola Richardson served the people of Jersey City for 12 years as a member of City Council,” Governor Murphy tweeted. “Before that, she was a Jersey City police officer. Tough and outspoken, a fighter for her community and her city. Her life defined the meaning of the words public service.”

A Dear Friend

Janet Walker remembers the good times she and Richardson shared as “church sisters” at Trinity Lutheran Church. The two went to the movies and often dined on Richardson’s favorite sushi.

“Here was this tall statue of a woman, a beautiful sister,” Walker says. “She was obedient to the word of the Lord. Everyone who knew Viola loved Viola. She loved her family, the people she worked with. I love her so much. She was a free spirit, a special person.”

Header:  Courtesy Viola S. Richardson’s Facebook page

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Covid-19 image

Explainer: COVID-19 Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three…


Making sense of the variety of tests being put into service to help stem the coronavirus pandemic and save lives

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Lilo H. Stainton

Like leaders in other states hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly stressed that New Jersey’s public health and economic revival must be rooted in widespread, rapid-result testing of residents.

The governor called for doubling the Garden State’s testing capacity — approximately 10,000 tests a day — but has yet to detail what testing methods will be used and how these programs will be deployed across the Garden State. Since the outbreak began in early March, more than 116,000 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including nearly 6,800 who died.

“Having a robust and greatly expanded testing program in place is vital to our being able to begin to reopen responsibly our state,” Murphy said last week during a daily press briefing that highlighted one of two COVID-19 tests developed by Rutgers University, one of which officials said could be scaled up in weeks to test 20,000 or even 30,000 people daily.

“Without testing, we will not be able to take the necessary steps to contain future cases and prevent them from becoming boomerang outbreaks,” he added.

Officials at the state Department of Health note that diagnostic tests — which can tell if the virus is currently present in someone’s body — are most useful for guiding public health actions, like deciding to quarantine infected individuals to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  These tests can be performed in various ways, involving swabs or saliva, and are now in use at more than 100 public and private screening sites in New Jersey, officials said.

There is also growing interest in antibody tests, generally performed by analyzing blood or plasma to find out if someone’s body contains an immunoglobulin — a protein developed by the immune system that indicates a person has at some point been infected. (Scientists are still studying how these antibodies may protect people against reinfection.) While the accuracy of some versions has been questioned, antibody screenings are now publicly available at some hospitals and labs in New Jersey and Trenton-based Capital Health is testing members of its workforce to give them peace of mind and to better understand the spread of the virus.

“We realized the highest-risk group getting infected and dying was health care workers” based on what we saw in Italy and New York, said Dr. Robert Remstein, director of accountable care at Capital. “We said, ‘we need to do something to protect our workforce beyond getting them personal protective equipment.’”

Patrick De Deyne, Capital’s head of clinical research, said the program was developed weeks ago when testing options were extremely limited and it will eventually involve close to 2,000 staff members, from those on the COVID-19 wards to housekeeping professionals. “Everyone is equally important,” he said.

Some states have started to deploy public antibody testing, including California and New York, which conducted random screening on 3,000 people at grocery stores and big-box outlets. One in five residents of New York City were likely infected, the state found; rates were lower in other areas. New Jersey is considering similar efforts, officials suggest.

The two types of test provide very different information, but experts believe both will be important as New Jersey and other states move forward. “You’ve got two options here: the snapshot of a moment in time versus watching a movie,” Murphy explained Wednesday, adding that state officials were working “morning, noon and night” on a testing strategy. “I suspect we will firmly come down on ‘we need both.’ And we need both for different reasons,” he said.

Diagnostic tests

In a diagnostic test, samples are taken from a patient’s respiratory system and analyzed for the presence of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Initially, this required a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab, in which a clinician took a sample from deep within a patient’s nasal cavity or the back of their throat.

Specimens are sent to a lab, assembled into a batch and run through a machine, a process that can take as little as 24 hours to 48 hours but stretched to beyond a week as the system became overloaded. The results are either positive — someone has the virus — or negative; the test cannot determine if someone has been infected in the past, but it can detect the virus in someone who is not showing symptoms, experts note.

These were the techniques used at some of the first public testing sites in New Jersey, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with state and local officials, and initially limited to individuals who had fever, coughing or other COVID-19 symptoms. To date, roughly 2.7% of state residents have been tested.

But the collection process is invasive and uncomfortable for patients and requires significant staff and personal protective equipment, or PPE, the masks, gowns and other gear health care workers wear to avoid becoming infected. And the delay in processing created problems for public health officials seeking to contain the spread.

Researchers at Rutgers University tackled several of these problems. In March, David Alland, director of the Public Health Institute at New Jersey Medical School, announced that his team had worked with a molecular diagnostics company to create a “point-of-contact” test that could be processed on site in 45 minutes; the development was hailed as a game-changer in the coronavirus response. (Other even faster tests have since been developed elsewhere.)

In mid-April, Rutgers Professor Andrew Brooks, head of RUCDR — a Rutgers genetics research group based in Piscataway — announced his team had worked with a private lab to create a saliva-based diagnostic test, the first of its kind to receive federal approval. This version has the advantage of being noninvasive, thus requiring far fewer clinicians to collect samples and therefore less PPE; officials have chosen it for use in the state’s five centers for developmentally disabled adults and at 16 nursing homes in South Jersey. Processing the saliva does take 24 hours to 48 hours in a lab, however.

Antibody test

Another metric is the antibody — or serologic — test, which indicates exposure to the virus at some point in the past; different types of tests identify different forms of antibodies, which can change during the course of an immune response. But it could be another six months before experts can determine what level of protection these antibodies actually provide against reinfection, experts said.

“At this time there’s not enough information from these antibody tests to make a determination like a back-to-work determination,” said Dr. Christina Tan, New Jersey’s state epidemiologist.

While these tests aren’t useful in diagnosing a patient or making quarantine decisions, they can help researchers better understand the full impact of COVID-19, which can be spread by people who are asymptomatic. It can also be used to clear individuals who want to donate “convalescent plasma” in which white blood cells from those who had COVID-19 are given to new patients to help build their immunity.

But there are questions about the accuracy of these tests, and federal officials have approved just a handful of the more than 100 versions developed. People also react very differently to infections, with some producing more antibodies than others, further complicating the testing process.

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new jeresy economic development authority

Murphy Gives Local Officials Option to Push Back Property-Tax Deadline


Governor gives cities, towns ability to lengthen grace period by a month to June 1, but concerns already being raised about next payment deadline on August 1

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Reitmeyer

An executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy just days before May 1 property-tax payments are due is enabling local officials to push back the payment deadline by a full month.

Murphy’s 11th-hour executive order doesn’t automatically extend the May 1 payment deadline, but instead gives New Jersey’s municipalities the option of lengthening a statutory grace period to help taxpayers struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order was announced during a media briefing on the pandemic held in Trenton on Tuesday. It drew immediate praise, including from officials who represent the state’s many cities and towns, some of which are facing their own financial hardships amid the still-unfolding pandemic.

State of grace for taxpayers

In communities that choose to take advantage of the executive order, taxpayers will be able to wait until June 1 to submit their May 1 payments, without facing the penalties and interest that local officials can charge after the grace period, which typically lasts 10 days.

“I think it was wise to make this permissive,” said Michael Cerra, the assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. “It’s in the hands of local officials.”

New Jersey has been among the hardest-hit states as the pandemic has spread across the country in recent weeks, trailing only New York in reported COVID-19 infections and fatalities. In addition, strict social-distancing measures ordered by Murphy to prevent further spread of the disease have shut down many businesses that have been deemed “nonessential,” and unemployment claims have reached record highs in recent weeks.

In response to the economic hardships, Murphy, a first-term Democrat, had already taken action to delay the state’s April 15 income-tax deadline. Other newly enacted measures have also assisted homeowners struggling to pay mortgages and tenants in danger of falling behind on their rent.

Murphy’s ‘additional measure of relief’

Murphy described his latest executive order as “an additional measure of relief” as he discussed it during Tuesday’s briefing.

Under a quarterly-payment schedule established in state law, property taxes are due on the first day of February, May, August and November. They can be paid directly to a municipality or through a mortgage company, which is something many homeowners do as they pay down home loans over the long term.

State law allows for the 10-day grace period for property owners to make their payments without facing penalties or being charged interest.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who leads the state Department of Community Affairs, said the payment delay for taxpayers that will be allowed under Murphy’s executive order will help property owners who “need extra time to get their finances in order.”

“We understand that many property owners are coping with financial challenges they’ve never had to face before because of this pandemic,” she said during the briefing.

Stephanie Hunsinger, New Jersey state director for AARP, said she hopes “all New Jersey municipalities act immediately to provide relief to their residents.”

“On behalf of AARP New Jersey’s nearly 1.3 million members, we applaud Gov. Murphy and his administration for issuing today’s executive order,” Hunsinger said.

But many communities are also getting hammered themselves by the pandemic as social-distancing regulation have restricted many activities that generate significant revenue. And while New Jersey is notorious for having some of the nation’s highest property taxes, those bills fund much of the frontline services that are being leaned on heavily during the pandemic, including police and other first responders, as well as municipal health officials and sanitation workers.

In addition, while municipalities collect property taxes, they must turn over a large portion of the revenue to local schools and county governments in transfers that are due by the 15th of every month.

Can local officials afford the extension?

Making it an option for a town to extend the 10-day grace period allows local officials to work with their professionals to assess whether they can afford to offer the extension, especially since the deadline for turning over tax collections to school districts and counties still remains in effect, Cerra said.

With the intervention coming from Murphy so close to the May 1 deadline, many local officials had already begun to take action on their own to give their residents a break. In some cases, officials passed local resolutions that lowered the interest rates that can be charged for late payments to the lowest amount allowed under state law, which is less than 1%.

The executive order creates a uniform way for municipal officials to provide taxpayers with a break during the pandemic, just as Murphy has by doing things like delaying the April 15 income-tax deadline, said Cerra, whose organization will likely be drafting a model resolution to distribute to local officials.

“I think local officials were looking to do same,” Cerra said.

Legislation had been proposed in recent weeks in the state Assembly to push back the May 1 deadline for many homeowners to July 15, which would have matched the state’s new deadline for filing income taxes. But that bill has stalled since its introduction.

Despite Tuesday’s action from the governor, Cerra said the next quarterly payments, which will be due on August 1, have already been flagged as a looming concern. Many homeowners may have had enough in escrow accounts to cover their May 1 property-tax payments, but they may still be facing economic hardships several months from now.

“We’re a little bit concerned about August 1,” he said.

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Historic Harsimus and Jersey City Cemetery

A Time to Mourn: Grieving Differently During the Pandemic


Funeral traditions have necessarily changed, making the grieving process more complex for families and the work of funeral directors more challenging

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Sheila Noonan

The COVID-19 quarantine has not only changed the way New Jerseyans live. It has significantly altered how our society has memorialized the deceased since the late 1800s, when, for a variety of reasons, customary home-based funerals gave way to services managed by undertakers. Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s March 21 executive order, public gatherings are limited to 10 people, including viewings, wakes, funeral services, celebrations of life and repasts. Other family members and friends watch from their homes through video livestreams.

“Many funeral directors enter the profession because we’re caring people who want to serve the community at the time of death,” said George R. Kelder Jr., CEO and executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, which represents 600 funeral businesses and 1,000 funeral directors in the state. “Now, instead of face-to-face conversations with families, arrangements are often being made by telephone, Skype or text — more transactional discussions than the comforting ones we want to provide. It’s outside the norm of how we typically operate.”

Kelder empathizes with the difficulty families have when choosing who attends a service and who stays home. “We’re noticing more cooperation with the numerical limitations, but families are forced to make very emotional mathematical decisions,” he said.

The changes to funeral services, the steep uptick in number of services and what Kelder said are dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment for funeral directors are taking their toll. Typically, he said, there are about 6,100 funeral services a month in the state; with COVID-19, in the first 30 days, there have been about 4,500 more. And even with crematories operating 24/7, the wait time for cremains has gone from a couple of days to two or three weeks, with mortuaries serving as holding spaces.

Tension, frustration, anxiety

“Funerals are part of the healing process and our human story,” he said. “And yet, never in 30 years have I heard the tension, frustration and anxiety in funeral directors’ voices as I have now. It’s truly a war-like environment, and funeral directors are striving to be as professional as they’ve always been. My fear is they’re too busy to recognize the stress they’re dealing with.”

Even with the limited choices that funeral directors can offer, it’s important that families continue to pay tribute to loved ones immediately following death, said Catharine Randazzo, a life coach and retired psychologist from Califon.

“What occurs during the first three days after a person’s passing is crucial to the loved ones’ ability to move from shock to acceptance,” she said. “Many of our funeral traditions have been taken away during the pandemic — and for good reason — but without doing something, I’m concerned some people will slip into unhealthy habits, such as excessive drinking.” Doing “something” could mean accepting the virtual options now and planning for memorial services later, as many are doing not only with funerals, but with weddings and graduations.

Randazzo also recommends grieving families ask for support and be willing to receive it. “If you’re a friend, say ‘Tell me how I can help,’ and if you’re the bereaved, say ‘This is what I need.’ If you can’t specify what the need is, don’t worry. Your friends and family will figure it out. If a neighbor leaves a casserole on your porch, take it; if relatives offer to virtually babysit your children by Zoom so you can grieve privately, let them. Most of all, let your loved ones hear your anguish and allow them to comfort you.”

Helping children to grieve

Joseph M. Primo is CEO of Good Grief, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that uses peer support programs, education and advocacy to serve children experiencing the loss of a relative. He agrees that grief — the emotions people experience after a loved one’s death — “won’t be put on hold” during the pandemic, but mourning, the outward expression of grief, is different today. In addition to virtual support groups and other COVID-19 child- and family-specific resources focused on resilience, Good Grief has released a 10-part podcast series, Funerals in a Pandemic: Navigating the New Normal.

“Funerals are more than a service; they’re the commencement of life without the person who died,” said Primo. “And while funerals have changed, children still need rituals as part of their grief experience. These rituals might include decorating a memory box, making a collage, creating a playlist of music that expresses their feelings, lighting candles, acts of service or sharing memories. They can provide a sense of connection with other family members who’ve experienced the loss.” The rituals could happen once or repeatedly over time, as grieving isn’t a “one and done” occurrence, he says.

When grieving children don’t have the tools, such as rituals, that they need to express emotions, they can develop physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, as well as behavioral issues. “They’re all the result of holding in grief. Children have big thoughts, scary feelings and rich inner lives, and need a safe, nonjudgmental space in which to express them,” says Primo.

Eventually, believes Kelder, funeral homes will again be able to operate and offer services in the ways that are most familiar. Until then, “the uncertainty of knowing when that will happen adds to the complexity of grieving today,” he said.

 

Header: Photo courtesy Historic Harsimus and Jersey City Cemetery’s Facebook page

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State Parks to Open

Liberty State Park Will Reopen on Saturday, May 2


Liberty State Park along with New Jersey state parks will reopen on Saturday, May 2.

Governor Murphy will sign an executive order today to reopen New Jersey’s state park and allow county parks and golf courses to reopen.  Information on Lincoln and Washington Parks will hopefully be forthcoming.

This order will take effect at sunrise on Saturday, May 2.

Social distancing will continue to be mandated.

See our opinion piece urging the reopening of Liberty State Park HERE.

 

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Governor Phil Murphy

Murphy’s Re-Entry Plan for NJ Businesses and Public Spaces Lacks Timeline, Specifics


While governor says he is leaning toward a statewide approach, it’s too soon to rule out a county or regional strategy, similar to what’s proposed in New York state

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Lilo H. Stainton

Before the economy can begin to recover, New Jersey will need to see a two-week decline in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, expand testing capacity to double the current level, recruit as many as 7,000 people to track down infections, and be ready to house and care for residents who test positive and lack a safe place to quarantine.

That’s according to the broad six-point plan Gov. Phil Murphy outlined Monday in Trenton, which includes a series of public health benchmarks he said must be met before businesses and public spaces can safely reopen. Today, he plans to announce the members of a new recovery commission that will guide the economic elements of the state’s revival in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Murphy provided no timeline for the strategy — which lacked detail — and said the stay-at-home order he issued in late March will remain in place for now. But establishing sufficient testing capacity alone could take five weeks, he acknowledged. The governor also said the process would be regionally coordinated with reopenings in six other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, although these efforts would not be identical.

“I don’t know when we’ll be able to formally and finally start this journey. Hopefully, if we all keep at it, it will be soon,” Murphy said. “If we let up even one bit with our aggressive social-distancing measures too soon — even one day too soon — we can easily see ourselves skidding off this road.”

New Jersey has now diagnosed more than 111,000 cases of COVID-19, including in more than 6,000 residents who have died. The impact on hospitals, especially in the northern part of the state, has recently lessened, however, according to state data, and daily discharges have outpaced admissions for more than a week.

‘Public health creates economic health’

Murphy said that economic recovery “will be guided by one overarching principle…public health creates economic health.” The plan he outlined Monday means the state “will be ready to put the car in gear as soon as we see a green light,” he added, noting that getting back to work will still require face masks, social distancing and other strategies to reduce infection risk.

But the six-point plan — “The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health” — provided few specifics, including how it would be rolled out across New Jersey. Murphy said he was leaning toward a statewide approach, but it was too soon to rule out a county or regional strategy, similar to what is proposed in New York state.

“A lot of ideas, not a lot of detail,” remarked Rutgers University Dean Perry Halkitis, a public health and biostatistics expert. “I do think the intention is in the right place,” he added, but said three of the four public health goals will take some time to meet.

The plan calls for an “appreciable and sustained” drop in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over 14 days; these terms aren’t defined in the outline, but Halkitis said these kinds of trends are fairly easy to track. Expanding testing and tracing capacity, and caring for those in quarantine are more complicated, he said.

Murphy has long stressed the importance of widespread COVID-19 screenings for the state to reopen, and his six-point plan calls for doubling the current daily capacity of approximately 10,000 tests. Roughly 205,000 New Jerseyans have been tested to date, or just over 2.3% of the total population, according to state figures.

Testing is still limited

But access to testing has been severely limited by the availability of kits, staff and other supplies, so screenings have so far been reserved almost exclusively for those with respiratory symptoms. Last week, the governor heralded the benefits of a new Rutgers University saliva test, which requires far fewer resources and — according to Rutgers officials — could be quickly scaled up to cover 20,000 or 30,000 people daily. But on Monday, he suggested it would be early May before the state was able to deploy widespread public testing, in part because of the time it would take to assemble sufficient resources.

“That’s a problem,” Halkitis said. “We need to have a better idea of the extent to which the population is either infected or has been infected.”

State Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has said another task force — separate from the economic advisory panel — is working on a protocol for the testing and tracing, but it is not clear when these recommendations will be available. DOH had already said it plans to use the saliva test to screen residents at the state’s five centers for adults with serious disabilities, a process that may be expanded to prisons, psychiatric hospitals and other group-living facilities.

Murphy’s recovery plan calls for testing to prioritize health care workers, essential workers and vulnerable populations. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the African American and Latino communities, and the governor said he hopes to use the recovery process as a way to address the underlying racial disparities in health. “COVID-19 did not create the inequalities in our society. But, it laid them bare. So, this is also our opportunity to help close those gaps,” he said.

Once people are tested, Murphy underscored the need for “robust contact tracing” to identify all those who had come into contact with COVID-19 patients. Persichilli has indicated the process could involve 7,000 people to assist with the work, which 99 local health departments statewide are now handling. But the plan doesn’t address how they would be hired, paid or deployed.

Halkitis — who has urged the state to use public health students for this role, as has been done in New York City — said contact tracers need to be well trained to elicit the right information, including from individuals who may be undocumented or homeless and may wish to avoid answering questions. They must also be culturally competent to effectively communicate with people of diverse backgrounds.

Need for coordination

In addition, contact tracing of this scale must be coordinated through the state DOH, Halkitis said, not the local health departments; state officials declined to say Monday how this aspect of the response would be handled. “It’s got to be one approach. It can’t be 99” separate tracing programs run by local departments, he said. “Otherwise, it would be like using 99 different rulers.”

Murphy also said the state would partner with tech companies, including Google and Salesforce, to assist with electronic tracings and infection warnings, using software similar to that deployed successfully in other countries. “The ultimate architecture” of the recovery will be “some combination of boots on the ground and technology,” he said.

When individuals test positive, Murphy’s “Road Back” calls for the state to provide a free place and wraparound services, like medical care and social services, to those who don’t have a safe place to quarantine. While the state has secured hotel rooms in some areas that could be used for this purpose, it’s not clear who would coordinate or fund a larger effort.

Murphy said the state must accomplish these four public health elements before it can move on to short- and longer-term economic goals, described in the plan as “execute a responsible economic restart” and “ensure New Jersey’s resiliency.”

“That’s the order in which we must proceed,” Murphy said. “It means that before we reopen non-essential stores and businesses, before we can reopen our parks, or before we allow in-person dining in our restaurants — among any host of other activities — people need to know, first and foremost, that their health will be safeguarded from COVID-19.”

Returning to work

The Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission, to be named Tuesday, will provide advice and help plan a “methodical and strategic return to work” based on a matrix that considers the transmission risk and essential nature of each business. Face coverings and work-from-home orders will be required, in some cases.

The final element calls for using the lessons of COVID-19 to improve the state’s resiliency to a potential resurgence of coronavirus or against future pandemics. It calls for hospitals and other health care providers to stockpile protective equipment and ventilators, and for the state to create its own stash to help guard against the shortages experienced over the past six weeks.

 

Header: Courtesy Governor Phil Murphy’s Facebook page

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Construction Photo

“Non-Essential” Construction Ban Causes Confusion


Building Industry Struggles to Adapt

“Non-essential” construction projects have been banned throughout New Jersey since April 10, when Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 122 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus went into effect. Still, due to the numerous carve outs in the Order, many building sites in Jersey City remain active. At the same time, other projects that qualify for exceptions to the ban have been halted.  As a result, many developers and construction workers are left scratching their heads — while also doing their best to make active sites impervious to the coronavirus.

Construction, 1st and Coles Sts

Construction, 1st and Coles Sts., photo by the Jersey City Times

“Some of our employers and property owners are doing the best they can to figure it out —  some are going to lawyers,” said Greg LaLevee, business manager of Operating Engineers Union Local 825, whose members typically work on big construction jobs in the state including the new Rt. 7 bridge linking Jersey City and Kearny.

LaLevee mentioned a nearby project involving remediation —  one of the exceptions listed in the governor’s order —  that, he said, got shut down by local authorities. “That kind of baffled us,” he said.

Questions about who’s enforcing the order and on-site social distancing are still awaiting answers, he added. “I don’t think the full story’s been written yet. It’s going to take time to shake itself out.”

Three of the local’s 7,000 members have tested positive for the coronavirus, LaLevee said.

How vast does the shutdown appear?  Councilman James Solomon, whose Downtown ward hosts a lot of building activity, said recently, “[. . .] my reading of it is that most large-scale construction sites must shut down or be in the process of shutting down.” This is likely because the Order does categorize as “non-essential” residential projects with work crews greater than five and residential buildings with no units under sales contracts. But that still leaves numerous categories of construction the decree deems “essential”:

  • affordable housing projects
  • law enforcement facilities
  • buildings providing for first responders
  • federal, state, county or city government projects
  • healthcare sites
  • business data centers
  • owner-occupied apartments with work crews of five or fewer
  • social services facilities (such as including homeless shelters)
  • schools and education offices
  • utilities firms
  • transportation projects
  • building related to essential retail or online retail

Most other types of construction are deemed “non-essential.”  That said, the Order does allow for “any work on a non-essential construction project that is required to physically secure the site of the project, ensure the structural integrity of any buildings on the site, abate any hazards that would exist on the site if the construction were to remain in its current condition, remediate a site, or otherwise ensure that the site and any buildings therein are appropriately protected and safe during the suspension of the project. It also permits “any emergency repairs necessary to ensure the health and safety of residents.”

Construction

Construction photo by Ron Leir

Executive Order 122 also details policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that active construction sites must follow.

What has the city done in response to the governor’s decree? Mayoral spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said this:

“Following the Governor’s executive order, the city created an informational website for full transparency regarding all construction projects. The website includes a process for residents to file complaints, the feedback of which will be shared with the state. We are committed to protecting our residents the best we can within the parameters that have been set by Trenton.”

Residents are invited to email prosecutor@jcnj.org or call 201-547-4900 to report suspected violations.

The website has downloadable application forms for both types of construction. Once completed, Jersey City Construction Code Official Raymond Meyer reviews the applications for prospective authorization.

As of April 21, a total of 138 applications for essential and non-essential work had submitted to the city; all but 19 had been approved.

Based on a random citywide check this week, among those sites where workers — all wearing face cloths — could be seen going up and down exterior lift elevators, carrying lumber and tools, mixing cement and the like were:

180 Morgan St. off Marin Blvd. (abating hazards, site safety and site security); 99 Hudson St. (residential with contracts); 75 Park Lane South at Washington Blvd. and 14thStreet (residential with contracts); 170 Erie St. off 10thSt. (site safety and structural integrity); 348 Baldwin Ave. (site safety and structural integrity), 184-190 Academy St. between Summit and Baldwin Aves. (abating hazards, site safety and site security); 55 Jordan Ave. off Mercer Street (abating hazards, site safety, site security and structural integrity); and 136 Summit Ave. at Fairmount Avenue (abating hazards, site security and structural integrity).

Many of these sites were residential high rises.

Work is also continuing at the following school-related projects: 275 Washington St. (also listed as 25 Columbus Blvd.); 102-110 Brunswick St.; 130 Essex St. at the intersection of Carbon Place and West Side Avenue; 150 Bay St.; 178 Newark Ave.; 26 University Place Blvd.; 321 Warren St.; and 88 Regent St.

There is also construction going on at two public housing sites — Holland Gardens, 235 16thSt., and Booker T. Washington, 62 Fremont St. — that fall under the affordable housing allowance.

No construction activity was observed at either 662 Summit Ave. (off State Highway 139) or 75 Jordan Ave. (between Vroom and Mercer Streets). The city has listed no reasons for the apparent stoppages. It’s possible the owners or builders concluded they failed to meet the criteria for continuing work and therefore never filed applications.

Assuming the city has allowed for a limited amount of work to secure a building before shutting down the project, neither the governor’s order nor the city has proscribed how long that work can continue.

Construction Summit Ave

Construction Summit Ave., photo by Ron Leir

Jeffrey Wenger, former principal planner for Jersey City and now a private planning consultant, said it typically takes a week or more to wind down and secure a construction site by taking down a crane, installing tiles or strapping down materials on an upper floor, for example.

Indefinite setbacks caused by even the temporarily halting of projects will likely saddle developers with added financial pressures, Wenger said. “If you’re not going to meet your [completion] deadline, it will create strain with investors and lending institutions.  There’s a lot riding on the outcome; stopping a job will be a big deal.”

How big a deal?  Well, former Jersey City Redevelopment Agency director Robert Antonicello, who now runs a commercial real estate brokerage firm, posited: “For a $180 million project, which would be comparable to a Jersey City high-rise now under development,  it would not be unrealistic to expect that for every month the project is down, pending a lifting of the executive order, the owners would be hit with an additional $400,000 to $500,000 in insurance, interest reserves and other carrying costs that they would hope to pick up on the back end.”

How much of that added cost would get “eaten” by the developer or passed on to the building’s occupants remains an unknown at this point, Antonicello added.

Asked to assess how the city is handling enforcement of the executive order, Antonicello replied: “I don’t think the city has been careless with this. And remember, even the governor didn’t want to shut down everything.”

For more on the impact of COVID-19 in Jersey City, see Jersey City Times’ news section.

 

Header: Photo by Ron Leir

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Rent Freeze, 5G Upgrades Discussed by City Council


Vacant Ward D Council Spot Also Hot Topic

Jersey City’s City Council met virtually Wednesday night to vote on the proposed rent freeze spurred by Covid-19 and on installing 5G utility poles to greatly increase internet speed. They also considered the process for filling the Ward D council spot made vacant by the untimely death of Councilman Michael Yun, among other matters.

Rent Freeze Clarifications

At the April 15 council meeting, Ward E Councilman James Solomon suggested two modifications to the first reading of a proposed ordinance to freeze rent and ban late payment penalties on all units subject to rent control: That the protections apply to all renters in Jersey City and that they be triggered by any future public health emergency, not just by the present pandemic. These modifications were still being debated at the council’s caucus meeting this past Monday night. Councilman Boggiano argued that buildings with fewer than five units should be exempt from the rent provisions. He also said the ordinance should have a statutory deadline.

At this past Wednesday’s council meeting, a compromised was reached on both matters. Members agreed to exempt from the ordinance properties with fewer than five rental units so long as the landlord lives at the address as well (in consideration of Jersey City residents liable to pay property taxes by May 1); members also agreed to a finite term for the ordinance: August 1 (saying the law could be extended if a continuation of the present state of emergency were declared).

At the May 6 council meeting, the original ordinance will be voted down; the revised ordinance to be voted on.

5G Telecommunications

5G Pole

Photo courtesy of Center for Public Integrity

The ordinance to allow Cross River Fiber LLC to install new 5G utility poles and update existing poles with high-capacity fiber optic cables in “certain public rights of way” came up for a first reading.

5G technology dramatically increases the speed and coverage of wireless networks, but it is saddled with the controversial allegation that it is dangerous to one’s health.

“This has been a concern for residents in Ward A,” Councilwoman Ridley said. “I’m currently working with the law department to put regulations on communications, and I’m looking at ordinances from other towns. Whether you believe 5G is dangerous, regardless of that, I am going to vote no.”

Councilman Boggiano agreed with Councilwoman Ridley whereas Councilman Daniel Rivera said he wouldn’t vote on a second reading without further information from petitioner Cross River Fiber.  The council will ask a representative from the company to supply additional information at the next Council meeting.

“We all have concerns,” Council President Joyce E. Watterman said. “If those needs are not met, this will not pass.”

Cross River Fibers LLC would be doing the work on behalf of its client AT&T. The term of the agreement authorizing its use of the rights of way use would be 20 years. Cross River Fiber LLC would pay the city $750 for every pole it installed.

Business Administrator Brian Platt said he will ask the petitioner to attend the May 6 council meeting. He also said the city supports the 5G utility pole installations and upgrades.

“We’re not investing or partnering,” Platt said. “I believe it’s good to bring new technology to the city when we can.”

Ward D Council Member Search 

At the Monday night caucus meeting, the council withdrew a resolution to appoint a replacement for Ward D Councilman Michael C. Yun, who passed away April 6 from Covid-19 complications. The council has until May 6 to make an appointment or continue with an eight-member council until the general election on Nov 3, 2020.

After the meeting adjourned, Councilman Lavarro said by phone that four Jersey City residents had reached out to the council with interest in the council seat: Cynthia Hadjiyannis, Patrick Ambrossi, Sean Connors, and Jocelyn Patrick. Councilman Lavarro said that these candidates would be interviewed before the May 6 council meeting deadline.

Councilman Boggiano said that Michael Yun would want Sean Connors to be his replacement. Councilman Lavarro demurred, noting that although Connors is a good candidate, there are others interested in the position who are “very capable” of filling Councilman Yun’s shoes, including Cynthia Hadjiyannis, an attorney who ran Councilman Yun’s 2013 campaign.

“I think in fairness we should hear out the other candidates,” Councilman Lavarro said. “I spoke to Michael Yun’s son, Benjamin. He suggested his father would have wanted transparency in the process. I remember Michael advocated for that.”

Keeping Parks Pretty

Van Vorst Park Gazebo

Van Vorst Park Gazebo, photo by David Wilson/Jersey City Times file photo

A resolution authorizing the award of a contract for $39,600 to Gene’s Landscaping Inc. for “fertilizing, seeding and aeration throughout various Jersey City Parks” came under scrutiny. Jersey City resident Jeanne Daly phoned in during the public comments part of the meeting and said she saw the landscaper in her neighborhood with New York State license plates. She  asked the Council to veto the resolution and award the contract to a Jersey City landscaper.

“There’s no reason that Jersey City cannot hire a local company for this job,” Daley said. “This is a non-essential business. There’s nobody in the park, and an investment of over $40,000 (sic) at this point in time is extravagant and a big mistake. We need someone in Hudson County, and we need to hire local.”

Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., noted only two quotes were solicited for the contract and that Gene’s Landscaping had been the lower. He said it might be prudent to take a second look and maybe a formal solicitation.

“At this time, we’re not using the parks,” Councilman Lavarro said. “We don’t want our parks to suffer, but we want to make a good faith effort to find local contractors.”

Councilman Robinson agreed that the city should “take care of our own.” He also said that it might take too long to solicit another bid given that constituents expect their local parks to be maintained at all times.

“I think we have to do a better job to make sure we are looking out for Jersey City up front,” Councilman Robinson said. “We missed an opportunity here, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have our parks cared for.”

The council approved the resolution 5-3 with Councilmen James Solomon, Lavarro and Boggiano dissenting.

In attendance at the virtual meeting: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Council at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; Council at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

The next virtual council meeting will be held Wed, May 6, at 6 pm.

To view the virtual council meeting, go to: cityofjerseycity.gov/vcm

 

 

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Leonard Gordon Park

Jersey City Will Begin a Phased Reopening of Parks on Monday, 4/27


Jersey City announced that it begin a phased reopening of five parks on Monday, 4/27 as a first step to safely help residents restore their routines through outdoor exercise and recreational activities while adhering to social distancing measures.

Previously, residents have petitioned for the reopening of county and state parks.

The parks will be open for residents to enjoy the fresh air from dawn to dusk for jogging, walking, and all non-contact activities following the health and safety protocols in place.

On Monday, April 27, the following five parks spanning the city will reopen with restrictions:

  • Enos Jones Park
  • Berry Lane Park
  • Audubon Park
  • Leonard Gordon Park
  • Pershing Field

Prior to reopening, city crews will deep clean the parks in an abundance of caution.  Starting Monday, city officials will reserve the right to limit entry to the park if overcrowding becomes a concern, and will remove park-goers if improper behavior takes place.  The city continues to encourage anyone who feels sick to stay home.

No organized sports will be permitted in an effort to maintain health and safety protocols.  Playground equipment, dog runs, basketball hoops, and other active recreation equipment will still remain closed.  Restrooms and any indoor facilities will also remain closed to public access.  Dog walkers are also asked to keep all dogs on leashes and curb all dogs before entering the park.

Jersey City’s phased reopening of parks will include a second phase in mid-May so that more residents have access to recreational space while adhering to the health and safety mandates in place.

 

Header:  Courtesy Leonard Gordon Park Conservancy’s Facebook page

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