TRENTON, NJ – After scientists have warned of a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, New Jersey Senator Robert Singer said the Garden State must be better prepared to handle it before it comes. Just as it did to health care workers and first responders, the virus pandemic stressed the capabilities of local and county health departments to the breaking point. Singer said he is determined to ensure the small, over-burdened health departments are better prepared for expanded public safety roles if the coronavirus resurfaces in the fall.
“As bad as the virus has been in New Jersey, claiming the lives of 11,000 people, we may well have dodged a bullet this time,” said Singer (R-30). “However, health experts and scientists warn a second wave of COVID is almost inevitable without coordinated, aggressive efforts. The next round could be even more dangerous, and it is essential our local and county health departments have the tools necessary to effectively respond to outbreaks. We must be battle ready at the local, county and state levels.”
Senator Singer will introduce legislation to establish the “Local Health Department Infectious Disease Preparedness Study Commission” to study the roles, responsibilities and response of local and county health departments to the outbreak and provide guidance for future incidents.
“The state response to the crisis has been underwhelming. Efforts to implement widespread testing were frustratingly slow and tedious,” said Singer. “The study commission will provide vital insight if the Administration plans to continue relying on local and county departments to carry the ball.”
A report published by ProPublica found that New Jersey depends on small, local health departments more than any other state. Often, as was noted in the article, those small departments have been rebuffed when they sought guidance from the State on how to handle pandemic response, which is far outside their regular duties and beyond their capabilities.
“The pandemic has stretched local and county departments far beyond their missions, and we must examine why we’re the only state operating this way,” Singer said.
Under the headline, “In Hard-Hit New Jersey, COVID-19 Saddles Some Small Health Departments with Crushing Workload,” ProPublica cited secretaries working as contact tracers, a person normally in charge of pet shops and tattoo parlors monitoring nursing homes, and growing concerns that the workload will increase on local and county departments.
The preparedness commission’s work will go beyond the current crisis and consider strategies and concerns for all public health challenges.
Singer’s bill could be introduced as early as Thursday, when the Senate next convenes for a quorum.