It’s not yet time to open up if you live in an urban city, Newark’s mayor says

Posted May 04, 2020

By Ras Baraka

The state will determine what the greater good is when deciding when to open up the state. But what might be good for the people who want to hike in the 30,000 contiguous forested in sparsely-populated Sussex County, may not be good for the people who crowd the Branch Brook Park basketball courts and other popular urban areas, Mayor Ras Baraka says.

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Across the country, there is intense economic pressure to have the states begin to open businesses and public spaces. We’ve seen repeated demonstrations in places like Michigan and Texas in defiance of their governors’ shelter-in-place orders as public restlessness grows.

As mayor of a largely African-American and Latino community, I feel this swell of political maneuvering and popular opinion will be lethal to our communities.

Most health experts say we should see a decline in new COVID-19 cases for a period of 14 days before a state or local government considers the first stage of re-opening. Even then, the situation is precarious, and a new spike would necessitate another shutdown. Here in Newark, we are seeing declines, but they have not been sustained. We need to make data-driven decisions based on contact tracing and testing, but nowhere in the country have those tools be utilized on a grand enough scale to make grand-scale decisions.

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Testing Ramps Up in Advance of New Jersey Reopening

LILO H. STAINTON | MAY 5, 2020 

NJ Spotlight

Medical workers prepare for the opening of a COVID-19 test location in a parking lot near the casinos in Atlantic City, April 28, 2020.

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New Jersey plans to provide widespread COVID-19 testing — for those with or without symptoms — at state-run facilities for vulnerable populations, long-term care centers, among migrant workers and via mobile clinics dispatched to urban centers, officials announced Monday.

While details and timing have yet to be made public, Gov. Phil Murphy and Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli outlined their intentions to expand screenings for the novel coronavirus at certain residential institutions and in communities that have been especially hard-hit by COVID-19 but lack easy access to existing testing programs. Testing is also being discussed for group homes and other operations overseen by the Department of Human Services, a spokesman said.

Testing is now available at more than 100 public and private sites but has largely been limited to those showing signs of viral infection; in addition, the current capacity only allows for about 10,000 samples to be processed daily. In announcing the goals of his six-point recovery plan last week, Murphy said the state must double the daily testing capacity — a process he said would take until late May — before New Jersey can safely reopen businesses and public spaces.

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The first challenge of the day for these essential workers is getting to work

Posted May 03, 2020

Despite the number of people working from home due to the coronavirus, there is still a vast army of essential workers commuting by bus, ranging from warehouse employees to front line medical staff.

They are the invisible commuters, traveling before sunrise and at night.

At 6 a.m., the remaining rush hour warriors wait at Newark Penn Station’s bus lanes. Many are warehouse workers, filling a blizzard of orders from people staying home.

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Murphy to Announce Today Whether Schools Will Be Closed Through End of Year

JOHN MOONEY | MAY 4, 2020

NJ Spotlight

 

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce today whether schools will remain closed and on remote instruction for the rest of the school year, with most bets that he will call it for the year.

But as schools prepare for what some called the inevitability of extended closure, it will raise a host of questions for not just this school year but also the next.

Murphy has yet to show his hand, saying he will save it for the announcement today or possibly tomorrow. He has stressed public health first.

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N.J. will ask National Guard to help nursing homes decimated by the coronavirus

Posted May 02, 2020

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Saturday she is asking the National Guard to help New Jersey’s nursing homes respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 3,670 people living in longterm care facilities.

Nearly half of all deaths in the state appear to come from nursing homes, based on lab-confirmed and presumed COVID-19 death data.

The decision to seek help from the state or federal branches of the National Guard is an abrupt change from what Gov. Phil Murphy had said as recently as Friday, when he called it an idea under consideration.

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Priest sues governor over coronavirus executive order banning religious gatherings

Posted May 02, 2020

A North Jersey priest has sued Gov. Phil Murphy over Executive Order 107, which was issued in late March and banned social gatherings of any size in the state including religious gatherings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus; saying that the order was unconstitutional.

The Rev. Kevin Robinson, of St. Anthony of Padua Church in North Caldwell, filed the complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court in Newark.

The lawsuit alleged that the order violates the First and Fourteenth amendments.

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We must not forget the civil rights lessons we learned after Superstorm Sandy

Posted May 01, 2020

By Christian Estevez, Richard Smith and Adam Gordon

Just like after Sandy, housing security is again emerging during the pandemic as one of the most serious long-term threats. This time, we need to make sure the needs of traditionally disinvested communities are front and center from the very beginning. We are already seeing disturbing reports of federal funds going to big corporations, including many larger landlords, community leaders said. Above, a home in Newark after Superstorm Sandy. 

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As the state and federal governments gear up to shift from the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic to longer-term impacts, we must learn from the promise and pitfalls of the state’s response to Superstorm Sandy to ensure assistance reaches the most-impacted communities. Much of what we learned from the state’s response following Sandy can be effectively marshaled now.

Rather than focus aid where it was most needed, the administration of former Gov. Chris Christie initially channeled money to towns with little damage whose mayors endorsed his reelection campaign. He allocated a paltry $5 million for the entire state to rebuild damaged public housing.

The Christie administration only revised its plans after our organizations filed a civil rights complaint — an action that led to the largest fair housing settlement in U.S. history, impacting over a half-billion dollars in federal funds. That settlement mandated the state focus resources on the counties that were hardest hit, while setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the workforce and affordable housing destroyed by the storm.

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Murphy eases rules for marriage licenses in N.J. during coronavirus pandemic

Posted May 01, 2020

It’s now easier for couples to get marriage licenses and minors to get work papers in New Jersey during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday.

Murphy signed an executive order suspending the requirement for people to obtain those documents in person.

It takes effect Monday.

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After controversies, N.J. town appoints 1st African-American police director

Posted Apr 30, 2020

Quovella M. Spruill, a former chief of detectives at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, is the new public safety director in Franklin Township, becoming the first African-American woman to ever lead the police department in Somerset County’s most populous municipality.

Spruill, a Newark native, is accustomed to the accolade: She became the first African-American woman to hold the position of chief of detectives at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I feel great,” she said in a phone interview with NJ Advance Media Thursday. “I feel just like I did in Essex County. We’ll prove all the naysayers wrong.”

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Why Were NJ’s Small Businesses Shortchanged by Federal Program to Offset COVID-19 Losses?

COLLEEN O'DEA | MAY 1, 2020

NJ Spotlight

A business closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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New Jersey businesses got more than $9.5 billion from the first round of a federal program aimed at helping small firms through the COVID-19 pandemic. While that’s a lot of money, New Jersey has one of the smallest percentages of state businesses getting assistance in the nation.

An analysis of the Paycheck Protection Program by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that New Jersey and New York, the two states hit hardest by the viral spread, ranked nearly last in terms of the percentage of all businesses — 18% — that got an award from the first round of the government’s main small-business assistance program. Only California and Nevada have smaller proportions, 15% and 17%, respectively.

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