Board of Commissioners reflect on battle against COVID-19 on two-year mark
(Gloucester Township, NJ) –More than two years ago on March 6, 2020, the Board of Commissioners announced the first discovered case of COVID-19 in Cherry Hill Township. Throughout this time period, the commissioners have worked tirelessly with federal, state and local partners to combat this public health crisis. Whether it was distributing food to highly impacted residents or administering vaccines, the commissioners and the county Department of Health devoted personnel and resources to ending the pandemic every day since that fateful date.
“From building the first testing site in South Jersey to constructing a vaccine mega-site at Camden County College, where more than 140,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has been – and continue to be – administered, the Commissioners and county employees have gone above and beyond for our neighbors,” Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said. “We pressed the limits to get as many people vaccinated as possible so that our community could be whole once again. Now, two years later, we’re beginning to see some of our pre-pandemic life return as cases, hospitalizations and other key metrics are significantly dropping.”
The Board of Commissioners dedicated time, manpower and resources to one of the largest testing campaigns in state history. The department of health worked with our partners to stand up and operate 15 different testing sites throughout the county since the beginning of the pandemic to provide as much access and opportunity to testing as possible. Based on that, county employees administered more than 50,000 individual tests themselves over the last two years.
“When testing shortages were rampant this last holiday season, the board stood up four testing sites and administered thousands of tests for residents,” Cappelli said. “Our team at the Camden Count Health Hub worked day and night, from sunup to sundown, to be there for every single resident in frigid temperatures who needed a test. No matter what the weather conditions or the time of the day we were there.”
To keep Camden County afloat throughout the last two years, the board allocated: $33.5 million worth of COVID relief funds to small businesses; $12 million worth of rental assistance; $12 million to nonprofit organizations; $28.7 million into county healthcare institutions; and $3.2 million to municipalities so mayors and local governing bodies can plug holes from losses from the coronavirus. At this juncture, the commissioners have sent more than $90 million of funds back to our residents to support the community and offset the devastation the pandemic as wrought on every aspect of our lives.
“Everyone from every walk of life has been impacted in some way by the pandemic,” Cappelli continued. “The Board of Commissioners knew that in order for everyone to make it through these unprecedented times, we needed to financially assist our residents, healthcare institutions, nonprofits and small businesses.”
In addition to the grant programs, the commissioners organized hundreds of food distributions throughout the county. With partnerships forged with Farmers Against Hunger, the South Jersey Food Bank and other organizations, Commissioner Jon Young ensured that anyone who had food security challenges during the pandemic had access to high quality food.
“With unemployment soaring early on in the pandemic, and the state COVID-19 restrictions keeping everyone indoors, we knew as a board we were going to be faced with a food crisis,” Young said. “Based on that, we took to the streets, built partnerships and gave more than a 500,000 pounds of food away over the last two years averting further deepening disaster.”
Young went on to talk about the 649,000 meals that were delivered directly to homes of vulnerable residents through the health department’s meals on wheels program.
‘Going door to door with our employees and dropping off meals to our elderly residents who couldn’t leave the house, having that human contact with members of our community that were trapped and frightened of the unknown was extremely impactful,” Young continued. “This might have been the only interaction some of these folks had with another human that day and getting them food was imperative to their survival. This was a mammoth task and one that I know saved lives over the course of this pandemic.”
Congressman Donald Norcross has been a foundational figure in the commissioners fight against this virus from advocating and endorsing the use of federal funds to support our community to ensuring Camden County got its fair share of resources from the state.
“The work between the federal, state, and local partners in responding to the pandemic has been remarkable. Since the first COVID case two years ago, I have advocated in Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding including the American Rescue Plan funding and federal grants to ensure our local partners received the support of the federal government,” Norcross said. “They have done a great job at using that support to help to keep families safe and healthy. This pandemic wreaked havoc on so many lives but also brought out incredible bravery and community support. Thank you to the essential workers that kept our country running, your effort was heroic. To the many families who lost loved one our hearts go out to you.”
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 and 2021 Flu Shot Program which, for the first time, featured drive-thru vaccination sites.
- Developing and implementing a robust contact tracing operation, which at its height had more than 200 employees who are working in the county Health Department to identify COVID contacts and limit community spread.
- Continued 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 400,000 masks to residents.
- During the beginning of the pandemic the commissioners strategically placed portable washing stations outdoors to provide options for good hand hygiene for those who lack access.
- More than 1.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment has been issued to local first responders, county agencies and long-term care facilities.
- 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.
- Airing 163 COVID-19 updates since the beginning of the pandemic keeping residents informed of everything from vaccine access to testing locations.
To date, more than 104,000 Camden County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,595 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.
“As we look back to the start of the pandemic, we must remember those souls we lost to this insidious virus. Every single one of those residents remain tied to our thoughts and prayers and will never be forgotten,” Cappelli said. “Nevertheless, I can’t help to think how much worse off and how many more people could have died, if the residents of Camden County did not rally around one another to fight against this virus. I cannot fathom where we would be at today without the commitment and dedication of our civil servants and their gargantuan effort to step up when they were needed most. Together we were, and continue to be, stronger than this deadly disease, but rest assured the job is not over and we still have work to do.”