Leading Paterson Through The Pandemic
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, we immediately knew that urban areas such as Paterson would feel the impact more than most NJ communities and required a more intense pandemic response.
We immediately launched a public health campaign encouraging residents to wash their hands, mask up and stay 6 feet away as much as possible. I also issued an Executive Order closing down non-essential businesses and offices before most municipalities. Luckily, our Fire Chief had the vision to stock up on PPE in January, which we leveraged with first responders - not only our firefighters and police officers but also for St. Joseph's Hospital to use with healthcare workers. I was proud that several Paterson factories retooled quickly to produce masks for Paterson and beyond.
We launched a data dashboard to help residents and policy-makers review information in real-time so that we can make the quick decisions needed to curb the fast spread of this disease.
We had to ramp up on testing and were proud to partner with facilities to make testing available throughout the City. At the same time, we prepared a mobile unit for our communities that were less likely to have a car. (Dr. Paul: "we optimized our federal COVID-19 relief grant to pay for testing, which was free and open to everyone, including people without health insurance and those who did not have symptoms of the virus.")
Our nationally-acclaimed contact tracing program was a crucial step in slowing the spread. Our team successfully investigated about 90 percent of the positive virus cases in our city. After locating infected people, they had to gather who they came into contact with to be informed. In the absence of a vaccine, this was our most important tool. (interview contact tracer to share: "calls don't always go smoothly, but my goal was and still is to develop enough trust so that our advice is followed - I tried my best and believe I was successful in most cases")
We also had to ensure our most vulnerable (seniors and the homeless) had more resources to remain safe. This included service for seniors to receive the food they needed to their doors. And placing over 400 homeless people in hotels through a partnership with Passaic County and Catholic Charities.
When Paterson rolled out the vaccine in January 2021, we hosted one of the region's only "first come, first served" vaccination sites. For those who had difficulties accessing an appointment digitally, such as the elderly, low-income residents, or those uncomfortable typing their information online, this made the process less overwhelming for them. We never turned away anyone - the undocumented, non-Paterson residents, etc. and had special hours for Paterson residents. (testimonials from a Paterson resident - "grateful to have received the vaccine sooner than anyone else I knew."
To address vaccine hesitancy, we created commercials with the likes of Harold Reynolds and rolled out the vaccine via trusted sites like Churches, Mosques, Senior Centers. (Rev Lassiter from Calvary: we were honored to do God's work and partner with the Mayor and City to vaccinate our most challenging to reach populations)
While Paterson's vaccination rate is one of the highest in the state, we still have much work to do. We need everyone to help curb any vaccine misinformation, and we need people to realize that it's free, safe, AND effective. I've taken the vaccine myself and encourage people who are vaccinated to share that information with their loved ones to help encourage them to do so as well.
While the rate of COVID-19 is declining, it remains high, and the long-term impact of this virus is still unknown. The large federal relief packages we are helping build a more robust infrastructure and social safety net to make sure our economy and public health programs are more productive and fair.