State of emergency declared in South Orange as COVID-19 outbreak rages on

The Township of South Orange Village is taking proactive steps to protect its citizens from COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Matthew Quarless – Staff Photographer

A state of emergency was declared by Village President Sheena Collum, effective Mar. 13. Collum’s statement said, “[The government of South Orange] need[s] your help, patience and guidance as we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 which was declared a pandemic earlier this week by the Word Health Organization.” 

Collum calls for limited gatherings and the use of antibacterial soap to wash. Collum’s most recent statement asks that all people in South Orange remain a minimum of six feet from one another.

Her statement requests that “we [the citizens of South Orange] all … make modifications to our daily routine, particularly utilizing “social distancing,” so we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system.”

Scott Egelberg, South Orange’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator is expected to respond to “any disaster [such as] hurricane, natural disaster or fire.” According to the South Orange village website, the OEM “coordinates multi-agency responses to emergencies and disasters within South Orange,” which includes the outbreak of coronavirus.

The OEM has been responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Egelberg said, “We’re [the OEM] in conference calls and we’re getting information all day … We are monitoring it extensively.”

Egelberg said on March 12, that “There are not [cases] at this time right now in Essex County … no one in South Orange is in isolation.”

In an update two days later, Egelberg said via email, “[T]here have been four cases of coronavirus in Essex County (three in Montclair, one in Millburn/Short Hills).”

In an update on March 15, Collum’s statement on the South Orange Village website said, “While there are still no confirmed cases in South Orange, there are now 11 cases in Essex County including one in our sister town of Maplewood.”

As of March 18, there were 45 confirmed cases in Essex Country, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

“As you can see, developments are happening quickly,” said Egelberg.

Steps are being taken to prevent an outbreak in South Orange. New Jersey Transit is taking extra steps to sanitize the train station, said Egelberg, although “we [the government of South Orange] don’t get involved in that, that’s NJ Transit.”

Egelberg said that he believes “businesses in South Orange haven’t been affected [by the outbreak]; people are still going out, still living their normal lives.” He adds that, “[Aid for struggling businesses] isn’t something we’ve fully planned yet, but we want all our businesses to thrive.”

Egelberg supported Seton Hall’s decision to close in-person classes and said, “I think it was the right move … The biggest fear of everyone in the world is large gatherings. To limit gatherings is the right move to make.”

In addition, “[The government of South Orange has] closed all of our offices to the public until at least March 31,” said Egelberg, with the option for virtual contact with village officials.

Citizens of South Orange who fear that they are infected with COVID-19 should not panic, said Egelberg. “If anyone in South Orange feels that they have symptoms, they need to call their doctor,” Egelberg said. “[COVID-19] is not a deadly disease for the majority of the public.” Those who are displaying symptoms should call their doctor, get tested and alert the local government for the safety of the whole community, according to the office of OEM.

Egelberg said that the South Orange government’s goal was to “curb panic while keeping people informed,” with a focus on “calm and preparedness and prevention.”

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of planning. This virus is likely to get a little bit worse. We’re limiting our public meetings and doing online stuff,” in place of in-person meetings, said Egelberg. “We’re updating our residents almost daily, hoping the virus doesn’t hit [South Orange] and we won’t have to go into more extreme measures.”

Egelberg warned against stockpiling and said, “Keep washing your hands, don’t touch your face and be cognizant of physical contact. People should go about their normal lives but be aware of the risk.”

“The biggest thing we are doing is educating people. We don’t want people to worry,” said Egelberg. He added that those who want more information on the COVID-19 virus should visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov or the New Jersey state website at www.nj.com/health.

Marie Leone can be reached at marie.leone@student.shu.edu

Author: Marie Leone

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