COVID-19: Governor declares state of emergency, Montclair school staff member being tested
By ERIN ROLL and JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Governor Phil Murphy has declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency, effective immediately, to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The governor’s declaration comes as the number of cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey climbed to 15 on Tuesday, March 9, with one death in Bergen County.
Although no one in Essex County has tested positive to COVID-19, on Monday, a Montclair school staff member was tested and will remain in self-quarantine at home until her laboratory results are returned, said school officials.The staff member The staff member ishares time between Hillside and Glenfield schools.
The custodial staff sanitized each school building this past weekend, and the staff member has not been in a school building since Thursday of last week, according to officials.
Schools will be closed for students on Friday, March 13, in order for staff to attend professional development on virtual learning should it become necessary to close schools.
The town has also closed down all programming at the Edgemont House used for senior activities as a precaution and all other Aging in Montclair programs. In addition, Montclair Film postponed its March film series for seniors. The library has also canceled all its senior programming.
At the advice of the state Department of Education Montclair School District officials are developing a preparedness plan to deal with a possible outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The district has established a crisis leadership team to prepare, plan and respond to the challenges presented by COVID-19.
In addition, the district is cancelling all overnight field trips and trips to museums, theaters, historical sites and amusement parks.
Local trips to small venues with only Montclair students in attendance will continue such as to the Crane House, Montclair Public Library, Montclair Art Museum, etc.
ON THE RISE IN NJ
Over the weekend the U.S. Surgeon General announced that the number of COVID-19 cases had climbed and that the containment phase will soon move onto a mitigation phase in which large gatherings would be canceled, working from home would be allowed and, in some cases, schools and daycares would close.
At the state daily debriefing on Tuesday, March 10, with state officials, it was confirmed that 15 New Jersey residents have now tested positive for COVID-19, with nine new ones on Monday alone, including an 18-year-old in Clifton. The state's first fatality has also been confirmed: a 69-year-old man from Bergen County.
No one in Essex County has tested positive so far, but 31 more tests of residents throughout New Jersey are pending. There are seven reported cases in Bergen County, two in Monmouth County, two in Burlington County and one each in Hudson, Camden, Passaic and Union counties. Tests are being done first by the state and as of Monday, Labcorp. and Quest, then sent on to Atlanta for CDC testing.
State officials stated that with the rise of patients in New Jersey the move from containment to mitigation phase could be next.
In the meantime public places, such as the library, have begun daily cleanings and offering wipes and hand sanitizer. They have also removed all toys and puzzles from the children’s room.
Mountainside Hospital announced on Tuesday that all visitors would now be tested for COVID-19.
SCHOOLS REMAIN OPEN
Though the Montclair school district is currently not planning to cancel classes at press time, the state Department of Education urged school districts to begin planning for complications caused by school closures, including the provision of home instruction, special education and nutritional services, and the limiting of large gatherings like sporting events and assemblies.
This is the second Montclair school staffer to be tested for COVID-19. On March 5, a letter co-signed by Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker and district Nursing Supervisor Betty Strauss, announced that a district employee and their spouse had been tested, but with negative results.
The town’s decision to close Edgemont House was made “out of an abundance of caution” relating to the virus, combined with the ongoing construction at the facility.
“Given the disruption that construction will cause anyway, we think this is the right decision to make,” the town said in a release.
Residents returning home from high-risk countries (China, Iran, Italy and South Korea) are being asked to stay home and self-monitor for 14 days. Two weeks ago, the Montclair Health Department had passively monitored a “few” residents who had returned from China. None contracted the virus. Local health departments are no longer being asked to do passive monitoring of travelers who are not ill, said director Sue Portuese.
“We are currently not monitoring any residents and do not know of any who have reported being ill or have been tested,” she saids.
Parker said during the March 4 Board of Education meeting that there had been early discussions about setting up off-site learning centers in the event of a school closure. Days on which students have access to home instruction services will be counted toward the 180-day requirement, according to the state DOE, but this applies only to a public health closing related to COVID-19, and not to any other type of closure.
On Friday, March 13, the schools will be closed while staff participate in professional development sessions on virtual learning, in the event a school closure related to COVID-19 is required.
Schools will only be closed if the New Jersey Department of Health or the local health officer issues a written directive to the school district.
Four New Jersey schools announced on Monday, March 9, that they would shut down for a day or two to allow staff to develop plans for continuing instruction during a shutdown.
The district also urged parents to update their contact information, and to make arrangements for any sick student to be picked up within a half-hour.
The guidance also advises school administrators to be aware of any stigma or bias associated with COVID-19.
“In this climate, fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 can lead to stigma toward Chinese, other Asian Americans, and the Jewish community,” the NJDOE said. “The NJDOE encourages all educators and members of the public to recommit to raising awareness of the deep educational and personal harm brought by stigma, bullying and harassment in our schools, and to spreading factual public health information without fear or stigmatization.”
On Tuesday, March 10, Montclair State University announced that it would be extending spring break through to March 22. Additionally, all classes, with the exception of certain studio and laboratory classes, will be held online through the end of the semester, according to MSU President Susan Cole.
Montclair State University has suspended all travel by employees and students to countries deemed Level 3 and 4 risk regions by the CDC, which includes China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. Students who have recently returned from those regions are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home. Cole said that there are currently only 11 students, who are returning from Italy, to whom the rule would apply.
After residents called New Jersey Consumer Affairs complaining about price gouging on various grocery items, the state also sent out representatives today to various stores throughout New Jersey to check for price gouging on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers.
Additionally, Monday’s declaration triggers safeguards, such as prohibiting excessive price increases pursuant to New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and the ability to waive certain procurement procedures to expedite the delivery of goods and services necessary for coronavirus preparedness and response efforts.
Officials continue to advise the best method to avoid the transferring of any virus is constant hand washing and considerate covering of coughs and sneezes.