Morristown has first COVID-19 death; 42 cases so far in Town and Morris Township

The novel coronavirus. Image: CDC.org
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Morristown has had its first death from COVID-19, Mayor Tim Dougherty confirmed Tuesday.

NJ Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks to the media during a press conference at Bergen Community College (BCC) in Paramus on Friday. Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

It was one of three deaths from the coronavirus in Morris County since Monday, according to state Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli.

No further details about these fatalities have been released. Dougherty said 16 Morristown residents so far have tested positive for the virus. Neighboring Morris Township was reporting 26 cases on Tuesday.

Statewide, 3,675 cases have been confirmed–the second-largest number after New York–and 44 New Jersey residents have died.  Some 204 of the positive test results to date are Morris County residents, according to state statistics.

The pandemic has killed nearly 700 people across the United States.

COVID-19 cases, March 24, 2020. Graphic: Coronaviral.fyi

At Tuesday’s Morristown council meeting, which was conducted remotely via the internet, Dougherty urged residents to follow guidelines from state officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and no gatherings of any kind.

Councilwoman Sandi Mayer asked about kids playing basketball in town parks. Town Administrator Jillian Barrick advised residents to report such activities to the police non-emergency line, 973-538-2200, or to contact her.

DIY masks: A video posted by Morristown Medical Center shows how to make them for hospital staffers during the pandemic.

The mayor also encouraged residents to continue their efforts to gather protective gear for staffers at Morristown Medical Center. Town hall is involved, too, he said.

“We’re reaching out to anybody, nail salons hair, hair salons– anybody who has masks and gloves that can donate to our hospital, it would be appreciated,” Dougherty said.

The public also will be asked to purchase local restaurant gift cards, for donation to hospital workers.

A joint initiative of the mayor’s office, Dave Walters of SmartWorld Coffee and the Morristown Partnership, it’s intended to help both medical people combating the coronavirus, and downtown businesses struggling to stay afloat in a world where takeout and delivery suddenly are the only dining options.

The Morristown Rotary Club also plans to donate funds to relief efforts, said Councilman Michael Elms, a Rotarian.

COVID-19 map, March 24, 2020. Graphic: Coronaviral.fyi.

Additionally, Dougherty said he’s been lobbying Sen. Cory Booker and state officials to help local businesses whose insurance does not cover this kind of disruption.

Gov. Phil Murphy at press conference at Bergen Community College (BCC) in Paramus on Friday.
Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

“I don’t know anyone who has pandemic insurance,” Dougherty said. “I want our business district to know that this issue has not fallen on deaf ears in the governor’s office.”

Next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the mayor said he will answer calls “from anyone who needs and help or assistance” between 9 am and 11. Town hall is closed to the public during the pandemic.

MEETING FROM MARS?

The mayor, administration officials and council members participated in Tuesday night’s 40-minute meeting from their computers at assorted locations, via a videoconferencing service that places each person in his or her own square.

With widely varied lighting and audio that ping-ponged from silence to cavernous echo to howling feedback, the presentation suggested the opening sequence of The Brady Bunch–from Mars.

‘BRADY BUNCH’ FROM MARS? Remote online meeting of Morristown council, March 24, 2020. Screen shot by Kevin Coughlin

Councilman Robert Iannaccone said the town should consider reviving broadcasts of council meetings on cable TV, a practice that lapsed years ago. He also suggested adding video coverage of other town boards, perhaps with help from the broadcasting department at Morristown High School.

Residents submitted a handful of questions via email. One asked if developers of the M Station project have requested a PILOT — an acronym for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. PILOTs are controversial because they cut out tax revenues for schools.

No such request has been received yet, said Council President Stefan Armington.  Planning board hearings on the office redevelopment, which is poised to replace the Midtown Shopping Center, have been postponed during the health crisis.

Another resident asked the town to ban plastic bags. Elms and Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten volunteered to serve on a subcommittee to explore the issue. The town Environmental Commission will make recommendations “when things return to normal,” Dougherty said.

In other business, the council unanimously authorized paying Dewberry Engineers Inc. up to $96,300 to engineer a Speedwell Avenue park, along the edge of the Modera 55 apartments parking lot. Another $59,185 was approved for landscape architecture by the Salt Design Studio.

Construction of the park, a project jointly funded by the town and the Modera developer, has been delayed because an earlier design proved too expensive, and because of litigation by an adjoining property owner, according to Barrick, the town administrator.

And a lottery will be held for applicants seeking to get onto the Morristown Housing Authority’s Section 8 voucher list, said Councilwoman Toshiba Foster.  Applications can be submitted on the MHA website from March 31 to April 6, 2020, Foster said.

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