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Office of the Mayor - COVID-19 Update No. 8

MARCH 30, 2020 @ 8:00pm                     COVID-19 UPDATE NO. 8

 

COVID-19.  Two months ago, most people would have guessed that COVID-19 was a Russian spy satellite, the name of an 80’s cover band from Long Island or a banned food additive.  Today, there is nobody from Kathmandu to Kokomo who doesn’t know COVID-19 is a virus that is disrupting life and lifestyles across the globe, decimating economies, overwhelming social networks and crippling governments.  COVID-19 has descended upon us so quickly, fiercely and completely that we tend to forget the fact that only a few weeks ago most of us looked at it as a matter that only involved other countries, something that we could read about or watch on TV comfortable in our detachment from the devastation it was actually causing to the afflicted  people and countries.  Like most of the trouble and turmoil that we see every day in the news, COVID-19 was a terrible problem for the people of countries other than ours and, while we felt bad for them, we all had, as Harry Chapin said, “planes to catch and bills to pay,” so our lives went on as usual.

When COVID-19 first reached our shores, it really didn’t seem like a big deal.  We did the math. COVID-19 had killed a couple thousand people, but upwards of 500,000 people lose their lives to the flu virus each year globally and nobody seems to notice, so we wondered what all the fuss was about.  We’re accustomed to the flu virus. We get flu vaccines and our pharmacies are filled with over the counter flu remedies that we take during the “cold and flu season.” The flu is so ingrained into our lives that it has its own season!  Like the Kardashians, the seasonal flu and the deaths that go along with it are just an accepted part of the human condition.  We soon came to learn, however, that COVID-19 isn’t like the flu and COVID-19 is NOT part of the human condition.  It is something else entirely.  And it is here, changing our lives as quickly and profoundly as it has all over the world.

As of March 30, 2020 the Monmouth County Department of Public Information and Tourism has advised that there are 1,033 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Monmouth County, 12 of whom reside in Oceanport.  These numbers, however, do not reflect the actual number of people who are suffering from COVID-19.  Far from it.  These numbers only reflect the number of people who have TESTED positive for COVID-19.  And, as anybody who has been following this story knows, having the virus and testing positive for it are two separate and distinct things.

Three factors come into play when it comes to the disparity between positive test numbers and actual COVID-19 infections: (1) Even if you have the virus and want to be tested, there is no guarantee that you will be given the test because, for the most part, you need to exhibit certain symptoms to get a prescription from your doctor for the test (e.g., no fever, no test); (2) Even if you make your way through the system and get tested, it takes upwards of a week for the test results to come back; and, (3) a great number of those who have the COVID-19 virus are either asymptomatic or, if symptomatic, choose to ride out the course of the illness by self-isolating while recuperating without being tested.

Based on the above, the numbers produced by the Monmouth County Department of Public Information and Tourism are just what they say they are: the number of people who have TESTED positive for the COVID-19 virus.  Nothing more, nothing less. They aren’t telling us how many people actually have the COVID-19 virus in Monmouth County or Oceanport.  They can’t, because they don’t know.  And they couldn’t know unless there was universal testing and that isn’t going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Oceanport is a town of a little less than 6,000 people.  By now, we all know somebody who has all the symptoms of COVID-19, is self-isolating and trying to fight through the cough, the fever, the headaches and the body aches that come with the virus, but have not gone for testing either because they can’t or don’t want to. We all know people who are asymptomatic but have been exposed to somebody who has tested positive. Given what we know about the pathogen, how contagious it is and what its symptoms are, the number of people who ACTUALLY have the virus in Oceanport most certainly far exceeds the number who have tested positive. In a small town like Oceanport, the social network is much better equipped than the County to provide an accurate estimation of actual cases.  And it is the ACTUAL number of cases that is important, not the number of positive tests.

Even more important, however, is what the numbers from Monmouth County do not tell you and cannot tell you: who, exactly, has tested positive. Knowing WHO has tested positive is the best way for members of a community to protect themselves and/or accurately assess whether or not they may have been exposed to the virus.  The County can’t provide that information because the law forbids it. But in a small community like Oceanport, the issue of who has tested positive is an easy one to address if people who have tested positive are open and honest about it. Like chicken pox, the mumps or measles, this virus doesn’t have a social stigma attached to it.  It’s important that people who have tested positive come forward and it is even more important that those who are suffering from COVID-19 symptoms without having had the benefit of a test be open about that, too. If the whole idea is that we need to isolate ourselves from the virus in order to stop its spread, then it is imperative that we, as a close community, share information amongst ourselves to achieve this goal.  This isn’t the Black Death. The numbers tell us that the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus recover fully and a vast number of the afflicted will have little or no symptoms at all.  There is absolutely no doubt that this virus will run its course like all other viruses, and we are going to come out the other side of this crisis much like we’ve gotten through everything else that life has thrown at us.

There is nothing that I or any other local public official can tell you that you don’t already know about how to best ensure you avoid contact with the virus: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, practice social distancing when in public and try to stay in your house as much as possible.  We know that the numbers are going to go up in the next few weeks and that more people in Oceanport will have their lives impacted by the virus.  Over the next few weeks, it is going to be very important that we in Oceanport look after our own. This is where small communities have an advantage over larger ones. Our social network, the one that works so well when it comes to getting the news out about local school and sports events, has to be on high alert the next few weeks to ensure that nobody in Oceanport suffers more than they need to.

Indeed, our social network is already responding to the call. Beacon of Life (the facility located where the old army hospital was on the Fort) has agreed to provide COVID-19 testing services for Oceanport’s Emergency Service Providers starting this week and has also agreed, in conjunction with our local Office of Emergency Management, to provide food, shelter and other assistance, if needed, to Oceanport’s senior citizens and, in particular, the residents of Oceanport Gardens in the event that they begin to have problems within the building.    Today, Senator Vin Gopal donated 100 N95 masks to our First Aid Squad and 25 N95 masks to our Police Department. Also, an informal network of Oceanport residents who want to help people in need in Oceanport have gotten together and formed a group called “Oceanport Community Helping Others.” If, because of COVID-19 related sickness or self-isolation, somebody needs something and has nobody to turn to, this group has volunteered to assist in any way possible.  If you or someone you know in Oceanport need(s) some COVID-19 related help, contact Oceanport Community Help Others (The OCHO) by calling (732-728-0962), e-mailing (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or posting on their Facebook Page (The OCHO – Oceanport Community Helping Others) and they will attempt to provide assistance to the best of their abilities.

Stay safe, stay well and, most importantly, stay in contact with your friends and neighbors here in Oceanport.

 

Jay Coffey

Mayor of Oceanport

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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