How Newark is handling the pandemic

On Tuesdays Team Baraka hands out face masks. Heidi Steinbacher came to collect one for herself and one for a neighbor.

“Even though protected by the blood of Christ, I still got to do right by the law,” said Steinbacher.

On Mondays, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka imposes a voluntary “Be Still Monday” for everyone. That includes businesses and stores — even pharmacies close for the day.

“We’re still trying to slow this thing down and we need to employ every resource we have at our disposal to do that,” Baraka said.

He imposes a curfew every night of the week and urges residents to stay indoors as much as possible. But not everyone’s listening; police have issued more 1,300 citations and closed 73 businesses for violations.

“There’s still regulars who believe this doesn’t affect them,” Baraka said.

Baraka says he understands the urge, but says Newark is now a city with more than 4,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and close to 300 deaths. It’s a city that needs much more testing, and that’s as challenging as getting more test kits.

“It would cost the city $11 million to get 100,00o test,” Baraka said. “I mean, it’s ridiculous.”

Baraka praised the school system for quickly mobilizing to remotely educate 40,000 children. He said some schools had perfect attendance.

But some schools report issues with reaching that goal. One teacher – speaking anonymously and for several – told NJTV News:

“We’re tired, depressed and wringing our hands about not being able to reach our students. Although Chromebooks were available, many students still are not connected. Assignments aren’t completed and grades are due next Monday. This feeling of isolation is tough on students who need support (i. e. some with IEPs) which requires the teacher to differentiate more. I think high school teachers have it easier than elementary in trying to accomplish this goal. Yes, I’m stressed and miss the support of my peers – something some of us are trying to create now.”

Baraka’s daily approach seems to be starting to work. Weeks into the pandemic, parking lots usually filled to the brim are nearly empty. Businesses are shuttered as Newark offers grants to pay workers. Even Broad and Market Streets seemed like a ghost of its bustling self.

Green Chicpea Owner Martin Weber came in to complete unemployment and sick leave applications for his workers. He’s applied for a potentially unforgiveable loan from the $350 billion dollar stimulus program ran out of money.

“We’re not getting anything. And if we do get anything, what are we going to get, 5,000, 2,000?” Weber said.

Throughout Newark there seems to be a spirit of generosity and appreciation. Afro Taco is giving food to frontline health care workers and others.

“We know this is a turbulent time, and you’re making it keep on going and moving smooth so we just thank you,” said Crystal Mills, founder of the Impact Women’s Forum.

From his home, the mayor likes what he sees, but he admits much more needs to be done. He reaches out daily at 5 p.m. on Facebook, and in this National Poetry Month he signs off with a poem.

“You got to be sure of yourself before you can ever win the prize,” he said.