Hospitalizations Drop, but Doctors And Askanim Say Social Distancing Must Remain Fully in Place
While the number of Lakewood residents being admitting to hospitals for COVID-19 has steadily dropped over the past week, local doctors and activists warned that it is far too soon to relax any social distancing measures.
One open letter released to the public last Friday said that the community had lost 50 of its members to the illness, but that the average number of people being transferred to the hospital had dropped from a high of 20 per day from two weeks after Purim to three per day over Pesach.
As of early this week, Ocean County reported 4,648 confirmed cases, 1,263 of which were from Lakewood, and 212 deaths. Ocean County is eighth in the state in number of confirmed infections. Actual numbers of cases are far higher as testing remains limited.
Despite growing numbers of cases and fatalities, Governor Phil Murphy said that the state had begun to “flatten the curve.” As of late last week, the state had 81,420 cases. He announced that potential plans to re-open the state would be made together with a commission that included representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware.
A letter signed by several of Lakewood’s prominent physicians said that for the time being, all social distancing measures must remain in place and be strictly observed.
“The virus is still spreading and causing new infections. If we let down our guard, we may, chas v’shalom, see an increase in new cases and deaths,” the letter said. “We believe that we are not at a point where social distancing [may] be relaxed yet at all.”
Jackson Council President Blasted for Comments to Call Out National Guard
Jackson Township’s council president Barry Calogero drew criticism for publicly requesting that the National Guard should be called to Ocean County to enforce social distancing guidelines, pointing an unspoken finger at the region’s Orthodox community.
As regulations to combat the spread of COVID-19 came into effect last month, several voices on social media misrepresented a smattering of summonses issued for non-compliance in Lakewood as a widespread phenomenon.
When an Ocean County fire marshal wrote that the National Guard should be brought to the town to shut down gatherings, he was widely criticized and accused of anti-Semitism.
While Governor Phil Murphy’s administration has been robust in its enforcement of emergency guidelines, the governor himself and other top officials have publicly acknowledged that the vast majority of Lakewood area residents are in full compliance and denounced those who used isolated cases to paint a picture to the contrary as anti-Semitic.
For several weeks, no new summonses have been issued in Lakewood, but last Tuesday, at a town council meeting, Mr. Calogero echoed the fire marshall’s call.
“Unfortunately, not everyone is following the law of the land, unfortunately, there are groups of people who hide behind cultures and religious beliefs, who put themselves, our first responders and quite honestly all of Jackson and all of the bordering towns at risk… [with]their selfishness, irresponsibility, and inability to follow the law put in place by President Trump and Governor Murphy,” he said. “How in G-d’s name can civilized people disrespect their neighbors, the President and the Governor’s orders? It is with a sad heart I implore Governor Murphy to set aside politics and use your power and authority to call out the National Guard to enforce the law and protect Ocean County from those who cannot seem to follow our laws.”
Both Governor Murphy and New Jersey’s State Police Chief Col. Patrick Callahan were asked about the comments and reiterated that they did not see any need for such measured to be taken.
Mr. Calogero has served on Jackson’s town council for several years and took over as president after Robert Nixon’s abrupt resignation this past December. In 2017, he was appointed by the Trump administration as state executive director for the USDA New Jersey Farm Service Agency.
Jackson’s township leaders have long faced accusations of policy moves aimed at stymieing growth of the town’s Orthodox community and are facing federal lawsuits, one over a ban on eruvin and another that prevents the building of new school buildings.
In addition to criticism from several voices in the Orthodox community, Asbury Park Press columnist and editor Randy Bergmann blasted Mr. Calogero’s comments in an opinion piece.
“Did Calogero really expect Murphy to order troops into Lakewood? If so, why didn’t he directly contact Murphy’s office instead of grandstanding at a council meeting? Did he first check with the Lakewood police, county sheriff or county prosecutor to see if they needed the help? Did he watch any of the videos showing the empty streets of Lakewood over the past few weeks?
“There was no inkling from anyone in local law enforcement that it was time for Murphy to call in the posse. Jackson is facing two federal lawsuits that accuse township officials of anti-Semitism.
“Calogero’s witless public remarks are certain to further weaken the township’s defense — and further reinforce township officials’ reputation for anti-Orthodox bigotry.”
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