Harnessing tools, resources to flatten COVID curve

Louis Cappelli Jr. (File photo)

With cases of COVID-19 surging again in recent weeks, Americans are looking to government agencies and officials for a plan to keep them safe. From Congress to the county freeholder board, people need to know that their elected representatives are still fighting to protect them and their families.

As this new spike throws us into further uncertainty, the Camden County Freeholder Board has never wavered in its search for new, innovative and, above all, effective ways to attack this virus. That’s why, in the past two weeks, we have taken additional steps to ensure that residents in our hardest-hit population centers are receiving the critical information they need to stay safe.

On Oct. 23, the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services launched the COVID Response Team, a new daily initiative to conduct a door-to-door survey of city of Camden residents and arm them with critical information and resources. In its first 10 days, the team has reached more than 2,000 residents in person or by phone.

The response team is currently going door-to-door Monday through Friday throughout the city. Once reached, residents are asked to complete a brief survey regarding their access to resources like food, shelter and employment, and are provided information regarding where COVID-19 testing and flu vaccinations are available nearby.

Of course, Camden County is not a monolith, and responding to the needs of each of our communities requires a systematic approach that takes into consideration the disparate impact this crisis is having on different municipalities, age groups, professions and a host of other factors.

Fighting food insecurity is an excellent example of the need for this kind of comprehensive approach. At the start of the pandemic, it became clear that job losses and shopping restrictions threatened the ability of thousands of Camden County families to secure food for themselves or their families. By leveraging government assets in conjunction with our partners in the private and nonprofit sectors, we were able to make food available in a variety of ways.

For seniors who were fearful that a trip to the store would put their health at risk, we opened the Home Delivered Meals program to everyone in need, removing the eligibility requirements that typically limit access to the program. To date, our team has delivered more than 345,000 meals to residents’ homes.

Simultaneously, we partnered with Touch NJ Food Alliance to stage drive-thru food distributions where families would receive boxes of fresh produce, dairy, protein and other healthy food items free of charge. By the end of October, we’d held 26 of these events, serving more than 6,000 families at locations throughout the county.

In addition, we have put more than $30 million into the community for small business grants and rental assistance supporting our local economy and renters to stave off a housing crisis. Also, we have allocated more than $3.5 million for our 37 towns and $29 million into our health care infrastructure in our hospital network.

Furthermore, looking down the line, I’ve directed the county Health Department to put a comprehensive plan in place to distribute hundreds of thousands of doses of a COVID vaccine. As it stands today, we know that Pfizer and BioNTech have a high degree of confidence in their latest vaccine trial, which still needs more testing but looks extremely promising. Like flu shots, we will be ready to deliver when a product is ready to bolster our collective public health against this insidious virus.

The list of ways we have responded to this crisis is long, but, importantly, we have not stopped adding to it, and we won’t until this pandemic is over. Even then, the need for economic investment, employment services and upgrades to our public health infrastructure will remain significant.

Rest assured, we will get through this crisis. We have already crushed the curve once, and I am confident that we can do it again.

Stopping the spread will continue to rely on the actions of individuals — wearing masks, social distancing and minimizing contact with others — but the Camden County Freeholder Board will be continuing to support our community in every way possible as this war rages on.

Louis Cappelli Jr. is Camden County freeholder director.