Cappelli: Reflecting on battle against COVID-19 on 2-year anniversary

Louis Cappelli Jr. (File photo)

Two years ago this month, the state declared a public health emergency in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases throughout New Jersey. Since then, the Camden County board of commissioners has worked tirelessly with federal, state and local partners to combat this public health crisis.

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 have been — and continue to be — administered, the county commissioners and employees have gone above and beyond for our neighbors.

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.

Here’s how it happened.

The board dedicated time and resources to one of the largest testing campaigns in state history. The Camden County Department of Health & Human Services 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 30,000 individual tests themselves over the last two years.

To keep Camden County afloat, the board has 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 health care institutions;
  • $3.2 million to municipalities, so mayors and local governing bodies can plug holes from losses from the coronavirus.

Additionally, the county has been actively engaged in a variety of other forms of COVID-19 response, including:

  • Having the Department of Health administer 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;
  • Continuingly operating the county library system for kids, families and seniors while opening indoor facilities with safety procedures in place and operating drive-thru services;
  • Having the Camden County Department of Health and Camden County Police Department distribute more than 400,000 masks to residents;
  • Strategically placing portable washing stations outdoors to provide options for good hand hygiene for those who lack access;
  • Issuing more than 2.25 million pieces of personal protective equipment to local first responders, county agencies and long-term care facilities;
  • Airing 163 COVID-19 updates since the beginning of the pandemic, keeping residents informed of everything from vaccine access to testing locations.

As we look back to the start of the pandemic, we must remember those 1,600 souls we lost to this insidious virus. Every one of those residents remain tied to our thoughts and prayers and will never be forgotten.

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. 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.

Louis Cappelli Jr. is the director of the Camden County board of commissioners and spearheaded the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with his colleagues on the board.