When the unofficial start of summer arrived last month, it dawned with a little bit of 2020 mixed with some remnants of 2019 and a lot of fingers crossed that COVID-19 numbers were on the decline for good as Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the public health emergency he declared had more than a year ago. A majority of the governor’s executive orders will expire on July 4, but some ended earlier this month.
“This summer has never been experienced before,” Harvey Cedars Police Chief Robert Burnaford said last week at the fifth annual Hometown Security Initiative program hosted by the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security Preparedness. “We’re coming out of the pandemic; how do we do it safely?”
He said the pandemic could have turned out differently, if not for the solid working relationships between Island communities and Ocean County resources.
“It’s what makes this area thrive,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit to local law enforcement.”
Daniel Regenye, Ocean County public health coordinator, agreed.
“I am not sure it is the same in other places,” he said during the June 9 online event, where he discussed public health’s rich history of planning for events, such as the coronavirus pandemic. “We were ready for this. We have a lot of experience to help us meet the needs (of our communities). This is not new to us; the intensity, the volume was.”
He said the county’s response was a success, and he would not change a lot about the last 15 months.
“The partnerships we have are a huge benefit,” Regenye said.
Before the pandemic arrived in Ocean County, county officials were gathering information and resources to combat it, according to Regenye.
He said more than 29,000 COVID-19 tests were administered in the county from March 2020 to this March. By June/July of last year, the Ocean County Health Department was working 100% on its own to administer the tests.
At the beginning of the pandemic, with personal protection equipment hard to find, the health department was able to supply 35,000 units from its stockpile.
“That’s some of the pre-planning that goes on,” he said, before adding, “We’re reopening now. What does that mean? We’re holding our breath as restrictions are relaxed.”
While the number of new cases decreased, the real test of whether the pandemic is over will not be known until two incubation cycles have passed after Memorial Day weekend and the 4th of July, according to Regenye.
“We’re almost one full incubation cycle past Memorial Day,” he said, adding close to 50% of the county’s population has been inoculated for COVID. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re in a good place.”
Also, on June 9, Ocean County Commissioner Gerry P. Little addressed the Surf City Borough Council at its meeting, saying what an outstanding job municipal officials and employees have done in handling the pandemic.
“I don’t know if you know this, but Mayor (Francis) Hodgson was instrumental in getting the vaccine to the southern part of the county. He organized the other mayors and put pressure on my office to make sure” it was available, Little said.
Officials from the Southern Regional High School District donated the middle school for a vaccination clinic at no cost for its use and no cost for cleaning, according to Little.
“It was a massive effort,” he added.
And one that was successful because of the “great teams” working together, Hodgson said.
“We appreciate all you do for us,” Hodgson told Little, adding Surf City employees outdid themselves during the pandemic and never missed a beat serving their community.
— Gina G. Scala