County marks one year since COVID-19 arrival

Officials recall, recount, reflect and recap year of work to try and stem the tide of pandemic.

 

Saturday, March 6, 2021, marked one-year since Camden County’s first discovered case of COVID-19.

In the 12 months since, the Camden County Board of Commissioners, Camden County Health Department, and all county agencies, have been responding to the pandemic and working to mitigate the ramifications of this global crisis.

Most recently, the Board has partnered with Cooper University Health Care and Jefferson Health – New Jersey to operate a vaccination center at Camden County College in Blackwood. In less than two months of operation, the center has vaccinated more than 40,000 residents, and with the recent approval of Johnson and Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, officials expect the site’s daily operational capacity to increase in the coming weeks.

County Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. reflected on what we’ve learned through one year of the pandemic.

“First and foremost, looking back on this past year, I am extremely proud of our residents for stepping up and fighting to protect those around them. The overwhelming response we have heard throughout this crisis has been ‘how can I help?’” Cappelli said.

“We’ve had to constantly reinvent our response over the last 12 months in order to address the critical needs as they pop up. Whether it was testing, food security, economic support, or now vaccinations, we have fought to get our residents the resources they need and to make sure we knocked down as many barriers to accessing those resources as we possibly could.”

Camden County opened its first drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility at Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park in Camden on April 1, 2020, in partnership with Virtua Health and Cooper. To date, the county and its partners have opened and operated ten COVID testing sites at various times, including three pop-up sites in Camden City, and an additional site at the Charles DePalma Complex in Lindenwold utilizing the Rutgers Saliva Test.

Tens of thousands of residents have received testing services at county sites. Six sites currently remain operational in addition to the widespread testing resources now available at private and nonprofit organizations throughout the county.

In addition to identifying and implementing resources for testing, county officials immediately began addressing concerns surrounding the availability of nutritional meals for vulnerable populations, and later for families facing economic insecurity due to the pandemic.

Throughout the spring and summer, the Division of Senior and Disabled Services expanded eligibility for its home delivered meals program to all seniors in need. To date, more than 408,000 meals have been delivered to new and existing HDM clients.

County Commissioner Jonathan Young talked about the 42 drive-thru food distribution events the county has held since last spring.

“It became clear very early on that food insecurity was not limited to those who were unable or afraid to leave their home. If we didn’t step in, there would have been a full-blown hunger crisis in our hardest-hit communities,” Young said.

“Even now when most businesses are back to operating in some capacity, countless families are facing reduced hours at work or they’ve been laid off completely. Then there are those who have had to take on additional responsibilities caring for family members or neighbors. So this need has not disappeared, and that’s why we’re still out in the community every Friday putting food in people’s hands.”

Fighting economic instability also required a multi-pronged approach. By strategically utilizing funds awarded to the county through the CARES Act in 2020, the commissioner Board was able to dedicate $30 million to small businesses throughout the county; $3.2 million to municipalities; $28.7 million to our three major healthcare providers; and $4 million to support renters.

“It has been a challenging year for everyone from our essential and frontline workers to our students and families. While we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis, the vaccines are providing hope, and the Biden-Harris Administration is providing a clear, comprehensive path forward to build back better,” said United States Congressman Donald Norcross.

“I commend Camden County and our local officials for being leaders in South Jersey’s coronavirus response. We will continue to honor those we have lost, and I’ll continue fighting for the federal resources that our neighbors and communities deserve.”

In addition to the above, the county has been actively engaged in a myriad of other forms of COVID-19 response, including:

  • The Department of Health administered thousands of vaccinations as part of the 2020 Flu Shot Program which, for the first time, features drive-thru vaccination sites.
  • Developing and implementing a robust contact tracing operation of more than 60 employees who are working in the county Health Department to identify COVID contacts and limit community spread.
  • Continued virtual operation of the county library system for kids, families and seniors, while opening indoor facilities with safety procedures in place and operating drive-thru services.
  • Both the Camden County Health Department and Camden County Police Department have given out more than 100,000 masks to residents.
  • The county strategically placed portable washing stations outdoors to provide options for good hand hygiene for those who lack access.
  • With a lack of cooling centers, over 300 fans and more than 200 air conditioners were distributed to seniors and disabled residents to keep them in their homes.
  • More than one million pieces of personal protective equipment has been issued to local first responders and county agencies.
  • More than 750,000 units of personal protective equipment has been provided to the county’s 56 long-term care facilities and assisted living centers.
  • Providing tools, educational materials and masks to Cathedral Kitchen in Camden City.

To date, roughly 40,000 Camden County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,079 have lost their lives due to the disease. Commissioner Director Cappelli talked about keeping those families in our thoughts and prayers now and moving forward.

“We are going to get through this crisis eventually, and a lot of people will feel like their lives are getting back to normal. But anyone who has lost a loved one knows that recovering from that devastation will take far, far longer,” Cappelli said. “We can’t let ourselves forget the true toll of this pandemic: the people who didn’t survive their fight with this awful disease. I encourage everyone to honor their legacy by fighting even harder to protect others.”

The Board continues to host weekly town hall updates via Facebook Live to answer questions from residents and to provide critical public health updates. Additional information is constantly being added to the county website and social media as well.

For more information about any of the services mentioned here, please visit: CamdenCounty.com.