Officials in Teaneck — the hardest-hit town in the New Jersey county with the most positive COVID-19 cases — were early disciples of the social distancing that experts say will play a key role in ultimately weathering the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 14, a week before a statewide lockdown was enacted, Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin issued a directive that made national headlines, calling for all township residents to self-quarantine.
Now, Hameeduddin and others say that, while the numbers of residents testing positive has topped 300 and continues to rise, there’s reason to believe the stay-at-home directive is helping to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We’re getting maybe 15, 20, 25 positives a day,” he said. “Some days we only got eight. So, again, cautiously optimistic. And it’s really early.”
For residents of this diverse community of more than 40,000, the difference in daily life is stark.
“I don’t see people in the park or walking on the street,” said Emin Kahyaogleu.
Sidewalks are largely deserted in the township’s multiple business districts.
“Most people are doing online shopping,” said Pam Benloulou. “And I see people staying home.”
“It’s kind of difficult,” said Terron Miller. “I think people are having cabin fever and are struggling with trying to be socially isolated.”
The numbers for Teaneck have been an up-and-down affair, subject to the limitations of the available testing opportunities, as well as the built-in delay of as much as a week between when specimens are taken and when results are reported. The March 30 total of 302 cases reflects just eight new cases from the day before. But the day before that, the increase in positive cases was 30.
“I feel social distancing is working,” said Michael Pagan, a spokesman for Bergen County, which, with more than 2,900 cases, is by far the hardest-hit county in the state. “The more we practice social distancing, the better off we will be.”
Officials at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck say they are seeing some evidence that self-isolating in and around the town is helping.
“I think it’s probably had an impact,” said Dr. Adam Jarrett, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “It’s hard to know for sure, but when I look at our day-to-day volumes — even though we’re still very busy — we are not seeing the kind of increase on a day-to-day basis that I think other places are seeing.”
“It’s probably a big part of why we’re keeping our head above water — barely,” he added.
Big issues remain at Holy Name hospital
Still, Jarrett noted, the caseload continues to rise at Holy Name, one of 10 New Jersey hospitals that went on what’s called critical-care divert on Monday, meaning it temporarily declined to admit new critical care patients when it got swamped.
Holy Name is now working out a plan with medical transport services to alternate critical patient admissions.
“Instead of one hospital being off critical-care divert and getting a wave of critically ill patients, we’ll just rotate the patients internally so we can all absorb the patients that need to be absorbed,” he said.
The hospital, with 40 patients currently on ventilators, plans to add another 40 critical-care beds this week. One of its staff died of COVID-19, and 20 to 40 more hospital workers are under quarantine.
“Our biggest issue right now is critical care nursing,” he said. “We’re bringing in as many people as we can to help support our critically ill patients.”
Hameeduddin called on residents to remain patient, and for people to be prepared for the fact that, even with social distancing, the numbers will keep going up.
“I know New Jersey and the country has enough of quarantine and enough of home schooling,” he said. “But you really are in the second inning. April is going to be a lot worse, I think, than March was. I think we’re going to have real issues when it comes to beds.”