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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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County Employees Return to Work in Shifts; Board Hears COVID-related Woes

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By Al Campbell

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
CREST HAVEN – More county employees returned to work in shifts starting June 15, according to Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton. He told the board, at its June 16 caucus, held via Zoom, that those employees are working split shifts, some at 8 a.m. and the others at 1 p.m. 
All employees attended orientation meetings June 15 that updated them on the protocols in place to ensure their workplace safety, according to acting Administrator Michael Donohue. He lauded department heads for overseeing the employees in making the reentry after the COVID-19 absence from offices since March. 
Among changes, he noted, were the placement of plexiglass panels where employees might meet the public. 
Further, Donohue cited concerns for the health and safety of employees who might be included in the most-vulnerable health categories. The plan is to have employees continue the split shifts at least through June. It is possible revisions will be made in July to the work schedules.
Freeholder Meetings
Thornton offered, and the board agreed, to continue to hold meetings Tuesdays at 3 p.m., due in part to the split shifts of employees. There will not be any night meetings until further notice. 
The change will have minimal effect on the public, at least for caucus sessions, since few attend. Those meetings have been held at 3 p.m. Tuesdays since the March closure of public buildings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Thornton also asked the board’s sentiment on returning to in-person public meetings, as opposed to Zoom internet sessions, starting with the first public meeting July 14. He asked that there not be any night meetings. The public will be alerted to the changes.
Caucus meetings on the first and third Tuesdays would continue to be held at 3 p.m. via Zoom. Those sessions were deemed valuable by Freeholder Will Morey, who noted that the 20 to 30 minutes helped keep each member apprised of current information.
Masks Required
When the board convenes, all in attendance will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Thornton added that a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed 12% fatalities from the virus. “That is significant to consider 12 of every 100 people who have the virus, who have compromised medical problems, are dying. We have to keep that in mind,” Thornton said.
COVID Concerns
Freeholder Jeffrey Pierson reported that he received numerous complaints from elderly residents at Victorian Towers, in Cape May, “regarding their safety this past weekend (June 13-14).” 
He said they reported many on the city’s Promenade and Washington Street Mall “did not wear masks, and 99% of those were out-of-towners.”
Pierson said some were concerned that their health insurance would not cover COVID-19 testing.
Freeholder E. Marie Hayes cited the June 13 reopening of the County Park Zoo, which attracted many visitors from the opening of the gate. 
Then, Hayes reported “a tremendous amount of phone calls” from constituents who applied for state unemployment benefits, who had not received their benefits, or even communication from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. 
Among those calls was a man who first applied for unemployment benefits March 29, who reported no aid or any communication from the department. He has repeatedly filed for aid and gotten no replies.
Another was a woman “who has tried to get through to unemployment and nobody answers the phone,” Hayes said. 
Thornton said he, too, received numerous calls concerning unemployment benefits not being received. He said he referred callers to Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st). He said the senator’s office staff had been “diligent on following up” on all calls received concerning unemployment benefits. 
Hayes also cited a call from Thomas Stocker, a retired Wildwood Crest Police Department officer, who experienced “almost a riot” at the North Cape May office of the state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC).
Stocker was permitted to address the board, something not usually accorded to the public at caucus meetings.
He reported the MVC office did not open on time, and a crowd of “25 to 30 people” were waiting impatiently. 
One of them was a man who reportedly was waiting for his CDL (commercial driver’s license). He had submitted paperwork at the office, which was closed due to COVID-19 in March. Since then, Stocker said, the man could have been working, but could not.
Others complained they had bought cars from individuals or private dealers, and could not get licenses for their vehicles. 
“All I can do is tomorrow (June 17) when I am on a call with the governor’s office, see if they will address the issue. This is the first time I’m hearing about it,” said Thornton. 
Not Enough Class II Officers
Class II law enforcement officers may be in short supply for local police departments this summer.
That fact was reported by Vice Director Leonard Desidero. Training of 60 Class I officers (who can’t carry weapons) should be completed in about 12 days, he said. When that training is completed, Class II trainees (who can carry weapons) will begin their course.
“Will there be enough for this summer?” asked Thornton of Desiderio. “No,” Desiderio replied. 
Those officers are used to bolster departments during busy summer months when tourists swell populations of the barrier island communities. (Click here to read related story.)

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