Princeton, South Brunswick officials declare a local state of emergency

The mayors of Princeton and South Brunswick declared a state of emergency in their municipalities Friday as officials ramped up efforts to contain the coronavirus in their communities.

In Princeton, Mayor Liz Lempert read from a prepared statement in a briefing at 4 p.m. at the municipal building. She said all scheduled public meetings held by Princeton’s boards, committees and commissions, including the planning board and zoning board, are canceled through April 5. All meetings of the local governing body are canceled through April 5 except special meetings to pay bills and claims. All events sponsored by the municipality are canceled through April 30. All private events held on municipal property and all events requiring municipal permits are canceled through April 30. The Princeton Public Library will close at 9 p.m. Friday and will be closed through March 29. (Editor’s note: We will post a detailed roundup of closures, event postponements and cancelations later Friday night. Email your information to editor @ planetprinceton.com).

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert speaks Friday at a press briefing.

The administrator in Princeton is authorized to hire any employees or contractors to address the municipality’s needs during the emergency. Municipal employees are barred from business-related out-of-state travel or attendance at any in-state conference or large group gathering. Residents should do routine municipal business like paying taxes online, Lempert said.

Earlier in the day, Lempert wrote that regardless of pending test results, people in Princeton should presume at this point that the coronavirus is already circulating in the Princeton community “That is why we should all be limiting our social contacts effective immediately and employing social distancing protocols,” she wrote.

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser read the statement he released earlier in the afternoon about a 49-year-old Princeton resident who tested positive for the coronavirus today. The resident is a staff member at Princeton University. She attended a party Feb. 29 at a Princeton home with 46 other people. Two people at that party were from the Boston area and had attended the Biogen conference where more than 70 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were tested when they returned to New England. Three Pennsylvania residents who were at that party have tested positive.

Officials in Princeton are waiting for test results for four more residents who were at the party. The Princeton resident who tested positive had mild symptoms. She reported attending two events after her symptoms began. The first event took place in Staten Island on March 7 at a dance festival. The second event was a meeting at the Princeton Medical Center on March 9. She has been isolating at home starting the evening of March 9.

In South Brunswick, officials still have not received test results for two residents who attended the Feb. 29 party. One of the two residents is affiliated with the high school there.

Officials in both communities have expressed frustrations with the delays regarding test results. Lempert said in her letter that the state has no control over private labs, and the state lab could not expedite all of the Princeton results from that lab.

Dr. George DiFerdinando Jr., head of the Princeton Board of Health, said at the press conference that with this positive result, Princeton is moving from a planning phase and preparation phase to a containment phase in an attempt to limit exposure further.

“This still gives the public some time to plan and prepare. We have no data at this point as to whether there has been extensive spread in the community,” DiFerdinando said, noting that people who are at a higher risk of becoming very ill, including people over 6o and people with medical conditions like heart disease, need to protect themselves and those around them by isolating themselves, possibly for a longer duration than others for their own protection. He also said community organizations, churches, businesses, and nonprofits need to plan and take measures to limit contacts, especially for workers in high-risk groups and the citizens they serve.

Resident Kathryn Stoltzfus-Dueck thanked officials for their efforts at the press conference during the question and answer period, but also called on them to shut everything down to lower the risk of the virus spreading. “When I hear the statement that there will be more widespread closures to come in the days and weeks ahead, my heart sinks. When I hear that teachers will be allowed in school buildings, my heart sinks,” she said. “Montgomery County, Pennsylvania has shut down all non-essential retail, gyms, and gathering places. I’m asking Princeton to do the same today.” She cited articles about the dire situation in Italy and the country’s inability to handle the crisis because the healthcare system there is overwhelmed with patients. ” Every single day counts,” she said. 

DiFerdinando responded, saying the CDC is not recommending that municipalities shut down, though he is aware some municipalities are doing so. He said the community needs to be prepared to fully shut down if it needs to do so. Residents need to prepare, he said.

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane said schools will be open and staffed for the next two weeks even though students will be learning remotely starting Monday. He said the schools will still function and be welcoming places for students who need help, and that he is welcoming staff members to come in the next two weeks to plan with colleagues. “If a student has forgotten a novel in a locker or needs help with technology, we will have people available to help with that,” he said. “The goal of remote learning is to ensure we don’t have large groups of students in a space.”

Cochrane said the district is working to make sure that all students who qualify for federal lunch programs are fed during the remote learning period. The district’s food service company is providing breakfasts and lunches for almost 500 students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The meals will be placed in boxes, one box for every student. Those are being packed and will be delivered to various neighborhoods on 15 buses on Monday. “We will be communicating where can people can find a bus in their neighborhood and pick up food to sustain them for the next two weeks,’ Cochrane said. “At the end of the two weeks, we will reassess and provide more food if necessary.”

South Brunswick

Mayor Charlie Carley declared a local state of emergency early Friday morning. “This is a historic battle against a virus that will continue to spread, I want to make sure every resource is available to confront it,” Carley said.

The senior center in South Brunswick is closed until further notice. The library is closed through at least March 22. Beginning Monday at 10 a.m., library staff will be accessible via phone, email and online chat during regular operating hours to assist the public with their information needs and technical support for digital services. No passports will be processed at the municipal clerk’s office. Residents should email the clerk’s office in South Brunswick with any questions. All in-person interviews have been canceled or postponed at the South Brunswick affordable housing office until at least March 30. All South Brunswick recreation programs in the community center, senior center, and public schools are canceled until March 29.

Tips for protecting your health and the health of others

As more cases are observed throughout New Jersey, officials are urging people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and the elderly to practice social distancing by avoiding non-essential travel, public events, community gatherings, and indoor venues.

-Stay home if you are sick, and monitor symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Contact your primary care physician if you need medical care

-Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time (or the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice).  Soap and water are preferred to hand sanitizer and are usually more readily available.

-Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid close contact with people who are ill.

-Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and do not reuse tissues after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

– Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website or the New Jersey Department of Health website.

Tips from the South Brunswick Police Department on how to manage anxiety

Although coronavirus is a health issue that is being taken very seriously, do not let your worry about this virus control your life. There are many simple and effective ways to manage your fears and anxieties. Many of them are essential ingredients for a healthy lifestyle; adopting them can help improve your overall emotional and physical well-being.

-Keep things in perspective. Limit worry and agitation by lessening the time you spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage.  Although you’ll want to keep informed, remember to take a break from watching the news and focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.

-Be mindful of your assumptions about others. Someone who has a cough or a fever does not necessarily have coronavirus. Self-awareness is important in not stigmatizing others in our community.

-Stay healthy. Adopting healthy hygiene habits such as washing your hands​ with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently, and certainly after sneezing or before/after touching your face or a sick person. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid contact with others who are sick and stay home while sick.

-Seek additional help. Individuals who feel an overwhelming worry or anxiety can seek additional professional mental health support. The New Jersey Department of Human Services operates a toll-free “warm line” which is a resource for people seeking mental health service. The warm line is activated during events that impact the mental health of New Jersey residents. The warm line is available 24 hours and has language access; (877) 294-4357.

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