Letters to the Editor 2019

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I want to say thank you to all essential workers on the frontlines who continue to report to their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic while the rest of us remain at home. Our healthcare workers, delivery drivers, store clerks, bus drivers, train conductors, public works, mail carriers, and all the others who are making sure there is food, water, electricity, trash and sanitation services, buses and trains running, and health care services and spaces.

Being an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic means potentially exposing themselves and their families to the coronavirus while performing their duties on top of dealing with life's everyday burdens. 

Many of these jobs were hard and underappreciated to begin with before the additional stresses of COVID-19. It is a sad notion that it took a public health emergency not seen in a century for us to deem these workers as essential. Therefore, take a moment to thank all essential workers that are and will continue keeping Cape May County and the country safe and functioning long after this pandemic is over. 

Overview

With Memorial Day just around the corner and the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, fear of economic ruin permeates through Cape May County residents, workers, homeowners, and small business owners who, under the best of circumstances, have only 20 weeks per year to keep the lights on. 

How am I going to make the rent? Am I next to be laid off? Will I be able to pay my property taxes? Will I have to close up shop and file for bankruptcy? Am I asymptomatic and unknowingly exposing my family to this invisible enemy stalking the world? Why can’t I get tested? 

These are just a few of the uncertainties I hear daily as I field calls from friends and colleagues. I can sense the fear in their voice, as our summer season hangs in the balance. 

Cape May County is in a unique position. The calendar is not our friend. Easter Weekend has come and gone, and with each passing weekend, the window for our friends and families to make enough money to survive the winter months inches toward closed. 

If we are going to save our summer season and avoid an economic downturn not seen in a century, an extensive campaign by every level of government from the municipality to the federal government acting in unison must be waged void of partisan squabbles. Below are several steps I believe we must take to avoid economic ruin while continuing to responsibly contain and eventually vanquish COVID-19. 

Social Distancing – Strict social distancing guidelines, such as washing your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, putting distance between yourself and others, masking your nose and mouth, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces regularly, must be adhered.  

Testing and Contact Tracing – An accelerated and vigorous testing system must be put into place. Both diagnostic testing to monitor the virus in our communities and serological testing to provide hospital networks and public officials with the information needed to make decisions regarding what, when, and where reopening is logical. This will require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve testing methods while life science companies continue ramping up all forms of rapid testing, so state and local agencies are prepared. 

Contact Tracing Database – A CDC, EEOC, and HIPPA approved database must be created to track and distribute results that state and local agencies can use to inform local officials enabling them to logically reopen their communities in the safest of ways. The way we track vaccinations and other viral infections, such as measles, can be used as a template for creation.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – N95 masks, gloves, eye protection, gowns, etc. must be made available for all first responders, frontline healthcare workers, and employees. To meet this demand, I implore the president to enact the full weight of the Defense Production Act of 1950, so adequate supply chains are established for delivery. All K-12 schools cannot resume classes unless teachers and students have access to necessary PPE. The magnitude of this pandemic requires a national response. Leaving states to compete amongst themselves and the federal government for resources is not a plan.

Small Business and The Workplace – Employers open for business must design layouts to maintain required social distancing practices bolstered by strict PPE, cleaning, and sanitation guidelines to assure their establishment and its workplace is safe and maintained. Tourism and hospitality-related businesses that regularly entertain larger groups, such as restaurants, bars, and hotels, must follow stricter cleaning and sanitization protocols to operate.

Cash Payments to US Households and Smallest Businesses – A one-time payment of $1,200 comes nowhere close to floating those who have either lost their job or are currently not working because their employer has been shuttered, or that don't have access to paid leave.

Proposal: Up to $2,000/month from the federal government for U.S. citizens who are 16 years and older and make less than $130,000/year to be reconsidered every 30 days, pending unemployment numbers and infection rates. Families who make less than $260,000/year would receive up to $500 per child for up to three children. A key criticism of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is that the smallest businesses are unable to claim loans because larger companies who generate larger fees are being given priority by their banks. Proposal: Payments of up to $75,000 to businesses with $1 million or less in revenues and up to 50 employees capped at 30% of gross receipts.

Unemployment Insurance – Under the “CARES Act,” eligible individuals are to receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits and an additional $600 per week, but states are waiting on federal guidance on the specifics of the extension creating delays. We must pressure our federal officials to act as quickly as possible. The financial burden placed on individuals through no fault of their own grows with each passing day.

Property Taxes – New Jersey is already one of the most expensive states to live, and now the coronavirus is ravaging our economy, and families are being hit hard. Municipalities are prohibited from delaying the property tax due date, therefore municipal governments should pass resolutions that would extend the 10-day late payment grace period by 30 days while cutting the interest rate to zero. 

Also, its time for our federal officials to step up and fight to reinstate the SALT deduction in the next emergency relief package passed by Congress.

Rental, Commercial, and Homeownership Relief – The pandemic and government responses, such as stay-at-home orders, which are absolutely necessary, has led to significant financial strain from renters and homeowners to landlords and lenders. Local, state, and federal officials working in unison void of partisan bickering must find a way to afford relief for renters and homeowners, such as long-term loans, rental relief, forgiveness, or temporary forbearance. At the same time, the liquidity of lenders and landlords will have to be ensured.

Business Interruption Insurance – The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) does not cover insurances, property taxes, or mortgage payments. In the event of a fire, hurricane, or natural disaster, businesses are covered through their business interruption insurance. Therefore, policies must cover pandemics, such as the coronavirus, to keep our small business infrastructure intact. Employees will have no job to return to if their employer goes out of business.

No Credit Downgrades – Pre-pandemic credit ratings should be preserved and not allowed to be downgraded until the coronavirus pandemic has been contained. Credit is essential to reopening business and the economy.

Open and Honest Discussion – We must have civility in our dialogue. We must be able to speak truth to power. Everyone must have a seat at the table; the public and economic health of the American people is above politics. Acting in unison from the municipality to the oval office, these are just a few of the many steps we must take to reopen our local and national economy. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

We cannot let this pandemic paralyze the American spirit. What works in Cape May County may not be the answer in New York City, but with humility and empathy in our hearts, we will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. We are the United States of America, and together, there is nothing we can’t do.

Editorial

New data and information about COVID-19 are being gathered daily. We’re learning what we thought yesterday was accurate information is today inaccurate or misleading. We cannot allow panic to turn our reaction into overreaction. 

With each passing day, we’re learning the coronavirus was likely spreading in New Jersey as far back as the end of 2019 and was being misdiagnosed as the common cold or seasonal flu. This means the number of people who contracted the virus is not being properly recorded in existing databases, leading to decision making based on flawed models.

We must think regionally. Actions taken in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and other areas along the Eastern Seaboard that produce most of South Jersey’s vacationers impacts Cape May County. If the virus is not being contained in our surrounding areas, South Jersey will be a ticking time bomb. If businesses are closed for Memorial Day weekend, the state will suffer an economic blow, but an outbreak July Fourth weekend will be catastrophic to our local economy.

Also, New Jersey's decision-makers need to create a friendly atmosphere for its pharmaceutical industry to expand its manufacturing sectors, ensuring medicines being produced in China are produced right here in New Jersey. Not only will this be an economic boom for the state, but it also puts us on track to be better prepared for the next inevitable outbreak.

Finally, if we learn nothing else from our current situation, let it be the importance of healthcare preparedness. As the Obamacare debate was raging, the “price tag” was a major issue. 

Here we are, a million confirmed cases, almost 60,000 deaths, and $3 trillion later. Whether we invest before or after crisis money is going to be spent. By making those investments on the front end, building up our healthcare and biodefense mechanisms, the price tag will be less and we'll save lives.

Brendan Sciarra

Cape May County Resident and Business Owner