Working hand in hand with the Ocean County Health Department and related agencies, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders this week reviewed steps being taken to protect both the public and county government workers.
“We are taking this very seriously,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “We are doing all we can to take protective measures including stepping up the sanitizing of our buildings, making sure our buses are clean, and distributing information as part of our ongoing efforts to insure public safety during this outbreak.”
Vicari, was joined by his fellow freeholders along with Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Joseph J. Meyers, Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye, County Superintendent of Schools Kevin W. Ahearn, Jail Warden Sandra Mueller and Director of Senior Services Maria La Face during a preboard meeting on Wednesday to talk about actions already being taken by the County.
“With a county population of almost 600,000 people, many of them seniors, and with more than 1,800 people working for the County, it’s important to provide helpful information to our citizens,” Vicari said.
A key agency in providing information has been the Ocean County Health Department (OCHD) which has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak from day one and is working diligently with federal, state and local agencies to share information and offer guidance regarding response strategies.
“Our Health Department is on the front lines of this battle,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health.
“We are also in the process of putting together agency and community-wide task forces to assess and reinforce local readiness,” said Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator. “On the county level, we’ve been in close communication with the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, superintendent of schools, our faith-based leadership, local law enforcement and public health providers to keep lines of communication open as we move forward.”
“The OCHD continues to receive up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH),”Little said. “The good news is that we learned so much from some of the recent emerging health issues such as last year’s measles outbreak. Emergency readiness plans are regularly being updated and modified in the event any unique or special issues arise.”
County officials have also taken part in daily conference calls with state officials and representatives from New Jersey’s 20 other counties.
While the health department continues to work with its agencies, Ocean County is also making certain that residents aren’t being scammed and that government buildings are sanitized.
The Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Weights and Measures has sent its investigators to visit as many retail stores and shops to identify any that may be inflating prices for any items that could be related to coronavirus sanitizing or hygiene measures.
“During difficult times we often see the best in people and unfortunately the worst in people,” said Vicari, who is chairman of Consumer Affairs. “Emergencies tend to draw scammers and price gougers and we don’t want our residents to be harmed by people who want to do nothing but take advantage of them.”
Superintendent Ahearn said he is in daily contact with both the state Commissioner of Education and local school superintendents.
“We’re ready if there is a need to close any Ocean County schools,” he said.
La Face said she is using her extensive network of contacts within the county’s sprawling adult communities to spread the latest updates about the outbreak.
Warden Mueller said the jail already has strong safeguards in place that have proven effective during recent flu and measles outbreaks.
The staff from the Ocean County Department of Buildings and Grounds is putting in an extra effort by cleaning and disinfecting Ocean County government buildings daily with sanitizing products recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for maximum disease control.
“B&G staff is wiping down hand railings, cleaning elevators, countertops, door handles, floors and taking an overall more aggressive approach to cleaning government buildings,” said Vicari, who serves as liaison to Buildings and Grounds.
Freeholder Gary Quinn, who serves as liaison to Ocean Ride, the county’s public transportation system said bus drivers and staff alike have been provided important information on the coronavirus and are taking extra measure to clean and sanitize buses and facilities.
“Informational flyers are on board all Ocean Ride vehicles informing passengers and drivers of the CDC recommended preventative steps for the coronavirus,” Quinn said. “Drivers have been issued disinfectants and other protective gear that can be used as needed.
“Ocean Ride primarily transports senior citizens who may be more vulnerable to this virus,” Quinn said. “We want to make certain we do everything possible to assure public safety on our buses and vehicles.”
The Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation is also making certain public facilities are sanitized regularly, said Ocean County Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, who serves as liaison to the department.
Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly, who serves as Director of Law and Public Safety, noted the Office of Emergency Management under the direction of Sheriff Mastronardy is closely monitoring the outbreak.
“There are ongoing meetings with local emergency management representatives to make sure the proper information is being disseminated,” he said.
Regenye noted that keeping the public informed is one of the top priorities for health officials as new information is coming out on a daily basis.
“Even though the risk is still low at this point, we know what kind of impact COVID-19 can have should individuals start getting sick,” Regenye said.
The Ocean County Health Department has monitored 14 residents but none of them developed any symptoms and were cleared. Another four individuals will continue to be monitored for any symptoms through Friday.
Additionally, three residents were tested for coronavirus, with two testing negative. Test results have not yet been received for the third individual.
Little advised residents to stay informed about the spread of the virus, but not to panic.
“If you have questions ask the health professionals, social media isn’t necessarily the platform to provide the best information,” he said.
Patricia High, Assistant Public Health Coordinator at the county Health Department, said preparedness begins at home.
“While there isn’t a vaccine and still so many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, the message is the same that we stressed during the recent measles outbreak and every flu season – and that’s to take a common sense approach to prevent any spread of the virus by adhering to simple hand and respiratory hygiene.”
A few simple tips to remember:
• Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, for at least 20 seconds.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands.
• Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
• Stay home if you are sick and avoid sick people.
• Clean and disinfect regularly.
• Avoid touching your face especially the eyes, nose and mouth.
• Review and follow CDC travel advisories when planning travel. If you become ill after returning home to the United States, call your healthcare provider before going to a doctor’s office or emergency department of a hospital. They may want to place a mask on you before you enter the building to protect other people.
• Get a flu shot – it’s not too late to be protected. OCHD is offering FREE flu shots!
Coronavirus questions are being handled by the health experts at the New Jersey Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Ocean County Health Department COVID-19 Answer Line is 732-341-9700, Ext. 7411.