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Pandemic Moderates as Restrictions Change; Other Health Issues Fight for Attention; School Openings 1 Week Away; Gas Tax Surprise; Policing

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Aug. 24-30: 

Pandemic Moderates as Restrictions Change 

The daily report from the county Health Department Aug. 29 announced no new cases of COVID-19. For the week, the county reported 46 new cases, down from 61 the week prior. Of the 46, 27 were among county residents in the general community, 13 were non-residents and six were associated with long-term care facilities. 

There were three new fatalities this week, all women. One was an 81-year-old community death, in Wildwood. The other two, ages 79 and 84, were at long-term care facilities, in Middle Township. 

The long-term care facilities have been quiet lately, and it is hard to read if the new activity concerning cases is a sign of more to come. For the week, four of the six long-term care cases were on the last day of the week. 

 Something that can skew the case count data is the difficulty contact tracers are experiencing, especially with younger, infected individuals. Over half of the individuals with confirmed COVID-19 tests are refusing to provide tracing information on who they have socialized with. This can depress the count. 

Gov. Phil Murphy started to lift restrictions again, allowing gyms, water parks, and indoor amusements to reopen Sept. 1 subject to observance of state guidelines. 

The state also required counties to initiate inmate reentry committees to help those being released from incarceration. 

The state Department of Labor announced that it filed an application for lost wages funds through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that may provide an extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits. 

Murphy announced child care subsidies to help families “find a balance between professional responsibilities and personal needs.” 

Other Health Issues Fight for Attention 

After a week in which health officials expressed concern about a “twindemic” (flu and coronavirus pandemics occurring at the same time), the state Department of Health added yet another worry, West Nile virus, to the list of viruses out to get us. The county announced its mosquito-spraying program

The warnings continued with new guidance concerning preparations for weather emergencies in the time of COVID-19. The $1.6 million worth of damage, in Upper Township, from a short-lived tornado stands as evidence for why preparation is a good idea. 

School Openings One Week Away 

With a week to go, the guidance around school openings continues to be fluid, and more districts across the state elected to reopen 100% remote. Cape May County districts are planning for a reopening Sept. 8, including private and religious schools

What is coming in most districts is several different hybrid models that all share a reliance on limited in-person instruction and continued use of remote learning platforms.  

The state allowed parents and students to opt out of hybrid models and elect a fully remote experience if they fear returning to classes in person. Some schools plan all in-person instruction

Atlantic Cape Community College will remain heavily reliant on remote instruction at the start of the year, except in specific program areas.  

Those students and faculty on the campuses will use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times and adhere to all health guidelines. 

Gas Tax Surprise 

Murphy issued his proposed budget for the nine-month fiscal year 2021. It proposes $1.2 billion in cuts, $4 billion in new debt, and over $1 billion in new revenue from taxes. The budget needs legislative approval. The new budget year begins Oct. 1. 

This week, we already saw a new tax announced, one that was not even mentioned in the governor’s budget address. The tax on gasoline and diesel fuel will rise Oct. 1 by 9.3 cents per gallon.  

Those who have lived in the state long enough remember when people came across the border of the state to buy gasoline. With this hike, the state will have the fourth highest gas tax in the nation, at 50.7 cents a gallon. The tax stood at 14.5 cents a gallon, in 2015. 

Policing 

This week, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office announced that no charges will be filed in a use-of-force incident that occurred, in Wildwood, July 12. The incident involved force used in the arrest of a Black man relating to a fight at a pizzeria. The Prosecutor’s Office made a critical incident briefing available to the public on the investigation of the incident. 

Murphy signed legislation mandating implicit bias training for police officers in the state. Meanwhile, a community discussion was held, in Wildwood, on systemic racism and racial profiling, with participation from Mayor Peter Byron, Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, and Police Chief Robert Regalbuto. 

And… 

In a continuing dispute over mail-in voting and the ability of the postal service to deliver the ballot on time, Murphy announced a modified election procedure that will rely heavily on mail-in voting. The state sued to block policy and operations changes at the U.S. Postal Service that the state feels are being put in place to disrupt mail-in voting. 

County officials presented a 15-year plan for the replacement or repair of 23 county-owned bridges and five Bridge Commission spans. The plan does not identify specific funding and leaves open which bridges will be repaired and which will be replaced. 

A habitat restoration program completed the eighth recycled shell reef at Cook’s Beach. The reef-building program began after the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy along the county’s bay beaches. 

Legislation passed to designate the historic Howell House, in Cape May, as the Harriett Tubman Museum. Meanwhile, Cape May City Council member Zack Mullock announced his bid to challenge Mayor Clarence Lear in the November election. 

Confusion over a New Jersey Transit bus route, in Sea Isle City, has Mayor Leonard Desiderio trying to respond to resident complaints while finding that access to information on the bus route is not as easy to obtain as one might expect. 

Avalon introduced an ordinance that would establish an Environmental Trust Fund in which the borough wants to accumulate money paid by developers and builders, as part of their permit deals with the state. The funds would carry over to future budget years and be available for environmental projects. 

Complaints about parking violations in a newly created bike and pedestrian lane, in Strathmere, led Upper Township to request the county designate Commonwealth Avenue a tow-away zone, which it did Aug. 25. 

Once again, the Cape May County Zoo stole the thunder, this week, with the announcement of two new capybaras in a rehabilitated habitat. Budette, a 5-year-old female, and Mikey, a 6-year-old male, arrived last week from a zoo, in Kansas. 

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