Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: March 27, 2020

Vernon Family, I have just finished participating in another phone conference meeting with Sussex County mayors and the Sussex County Health Department.

Since my last update on March 25, Sussex County has reported 40 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases. Three of those additional cases were Vernon residents—a 33-year-old female, a 76-year-old male and an 81-year-old male.

So far, the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sussex County by town are Branchville, Green, Montague, Ogdensburg, Lafayette, and Sandyston with 1 each; Andover, Hamburg, Hampton, Fredon and Stanhope with 2 each; Franklin with 3; Byram with 4; Frankford and Vernon with 5 each; Hardyston and Hopatcong with 6 each; Newton and Wantage with 7 each; and Sparta with 13.

This brings our county’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 72.

I want to use this update to address two COVID-19 related issues that have been the subject of many of the e-mails and phone calls that I have received this past week, plus much of this week’s Facebook traffic—and that’s (1) the lack of social distancing by walkers on the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail in our town, and (2) the lack of social distancing by those (almost all young people) who have chosen to play the types of games/participate in the types of activities that don’t allow social distancing.

1. The Lack of Social Distancing by Walkers on the Boardwalk Section of the Appalachian Trail in Our Town

As I stated in a previous update, my drives around selected sections of our town revealed that a large number of individuals that are walking those portions of the Appalachian Trail that are in our municipality are not practicing social distancing. This disturbs me because I believe that this lack of social distancing works counter to our efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve by preventing/limiting its spread.

The Appalachian Trail is under the authority of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and I as a local mayor have no authority, on my own, to close it or prevent individuals from walking/hiking it. However, I am pleased to report that our close work with The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the New Jersey State Park Service has produced positive results—effective at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 28, 2020 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the New Jersey State Park Service will be closing those portions of the Appalachian Trail that run through our town. They will close these portions by obstructing the entrance with snow fencing and a message board.

You and I know that there will be some individuals who will still walk the Appalachian Trail, and will do so in groups that are not consistent with social distancing—there has always been, and will always be, people who won’t act in the best interest of our society as a whole; they only care about what they want to do.

Vernon Township has taken action to discourage individuals from walking the Appalachian Trail boardwalk by putting up no parking signs on Route 517 in the area near the boardwalk.

2. The Lack of Social Distancing by Those (Almost All Young People) Who Have Chosen to Play the Types of Games/Participate in the Types of Activities That Don’t Allow Social Distancing

A key factor that’s causing many of the young people in Vernon, as well as many young people in other parts of the world, to ignore the recommended actions for preventing/stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the fact that they feel invincible, which they are not. As I also remember, I felt that way when I was a teenager/young adult.

New evidence from Europe and the U.S. suggests that younger adults aren’t as impervious to COVID-19 as originally thought.

In Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, almost a quarter of the nearly 28,000 COVID-19 patients are between the ages of 19 and 50. Similar trends have been seen in the U.S. Among nearly 2,500 of the first COVID-19 cases in the U.S., 705 were aged 20 to 44, according to the CDC. Between 15% and 20% eventually ended up in the hospital, including as many as 4% who needed intensive care.

Here in Sussex County, we have already had 13 confirmed COVID-19 cases involving individuals in ages that range from 19-35—18% of the county’s total.

It’s up to us/it’s our responsibility to talk to our young people, and to behave in a way, that will make them understand the seriousness of the challenge and danger that we face during this pandemic.

To discourage/prevent group gatherings and non-social distancing activities in Maple Grange Park, I have:

  • Had all playground equipment roped off, and have posted signs stating that the playground is closed.
  • Posted new signs (today) near the playing fields/basketball court directing individuals to practice social distancing, and advising them that if they don’t, I will have no choice but to close the park.

I visited the park at three different times today, and found it to be highly used by individuals of all ages. The walking paths, playing fields and the basketball court were all being used, however, they all were being used in accordance with the social distance guidelines. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Maple Grange is a beautiful facility that’s widely used by citizens of all age groups, and I don’t want the ill-guided actions of a few individuals to result in this facility being closed to the majority that need and use this facility as a physical, mental and emotional outlet during this stressful time.

On today, the Sussex County Health Department announced that our county had the first individual to pass away as a result of the COVID-19 virus—a Newton resident that passed away two days after being admitted to Newton Medical Center.

Let’s look out for each other, and DO THE RIGHT THING!

Howard L. Burrell, Mayor