Congressman Donald Norcross kicked off the Nov. 13 Camden County COVID panel with an overview of the federal government’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, as well as the anticipated Build Back Better package.
“The (American Society of Civil) Engineers gave New Jersey a D+,” Norcross said. “While technically it is still passing, it is far from a good mark. Our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure needs help.”
The infrastructure bill provides more than $312 billion for the state to invest in improving roads, bridges and public transportation, and to replace lead pipes in more than 400,000 schools and child-care to ensure clean drinking water. The aid will also increase broadband access to bring “universal high-speed internet to every family in America.”
Federal dollars will also increase resiliency of infrastructure for climate change, cyber attacks and extreme weather, and an upgrade of the power infrastructure with clean energy.
“[This bill] means putting our resources behind what we’ve been talking about that we haven’t been doing literally for decades,” Norcross added. “This is the largest investment in infrastructure since (President Dwight) Eisenhower.”
The congressman also talked about the Build Back Better Act, which, if passed, would invest in social programs like free universal preschool, aid for child care and care of the elderly, and funds to benefit people with disabilities. Norcross framed the legislation — whose framework is still being hashed over in Congress — as a way to help put people back to work.
“If you can’t find an affordable quality place to put your children, you’re not going back to work,” he noted.
Build Back Better also seeks to combat climate change by incentivizing clean energy through tax credits and consumer rebates; offer affordable health care; and invest in affordable housing. According to the federal government website, the legislation will be paid for by the largest corporations and Americans who earn more than $400,000 annually. Spending is expected to be spread out over 10 years.
In county COVID news, Assistant Public Health Coordinator Caryelle Lasher and Commissioner Louis Cappelli Jr. said that cases have been declining and are much lower than last year.
Since the panel last convened on Oct. 21:
- The average number of cases went down from 102 to 69 cases per day.
- The county infection rate went up slightly, from 0.9 to 0.96. (“Anything under 1.0 is very positive,” Cappelli noted.)
- The test positivity rate decreased from 5.3 to 4.7 percent.
- Cappelli reported that 220 county residents are in area hospitals, 130 fewer than the 355 reported at the last panel, while 13 residents have died of COVID in the last week.
- More than 2,000 children ages 5 to 11 have received their first dose of the vaccine since becoming eligible.
- About 400,000 residents have received more than one dose, with 315,000, or 62 percent, fully vaccinated. Cappelli remarked that the number is much higher in some urban areas.
- About 1,500 COVID cases involve students and teachers, but only 3 percent are being transmitted through the classroom. Lasher reiterated that the virus is mostly spreading through community transmission outside of schools.
Cappelli also announced that the Health Hub at the Blackwood Camden County College campus now offers all COVID vaccines as well as Pfizer, Moderna and J&J booster shots.
County panelists also discussed other COVID-related topics, like OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) role in keeping workers safe amidst the pandemic through masking or vaccine requirements, whether or not the vaccines for children will make an impact on the number of them catching the virus, and whether the end of the pandemic is near.
Cappelli raised the point that Pfizer has had a treatment approved in the U.K. and children can now get vaccinated, but Lasher added that a new variation of the Delta variant has also been found there.
Lasher is hopeful and optimistic, but also cautious.
“We are seeing a lot of positive metrics,” Lasher said. “Unfortunately, we are still seeing cases and we’re not where we need to be with vaccination.”
While the numbers are down from last year, Lasher recalled that at this time last year, “we didn’t know about the Delta variant, and a year later, over 99 percent of the specimens tested are the Delta variant.” She encouraged people to get vaccinated.
The full panel livestream is available on the Camden County Government Facebook page. More information about the infrastructure bill can be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/BIF-Factsheet-NJ.pdf.
To learn more about the Build Back Better program, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/build-back-better/.