Lawrence Township asks visitors to mask up inside municipal building

PHOTO COURTESY OF HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH

Citing the increase in COVID-19 cases, Lawrence Township officials are requiring all visitors to the Lawrence Township Municipal Building to wear face masks inside the building.

The requirement to wear a face mask, effective Aug. 2, applies to all visitors regardless of their vaccination status, said Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski. The building was initially re-opened to the public July 7, without a face mask requirement for fully vaccinated persons.

“(The requirement to wear a face mask) should not be viewed as punishment to anyone. It is a decision made for the health and safety of all who come into our municipal building,” Nerwinski said. “As employees and visitors do their business, they will be socially distanced and separated by Plexiglass at the counters. Both visitors and employees will be masked.”

Visitors who decline to comply with the face mask requirement can still conduct business outside of the municipal building, using the black dropbox next to the north entrance of the building. They may leave paperwork and tax payments in the dropbox, which is checked daily.

The Lawrence Township Council, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the advisory boards and committees will continue to hold in-person meetings, implementing what has become the standard practice of mask wearing and social distancing, he said.

Nerwinski said he reached the decision to require face masks after consulting with Lawrence Township Health Officer Keith Levine, who expressed concern about the Delta variant of COVID-19 and its increasing presence in central New Jersey.

Levine also followed up on the discussion with data that he is privy to as a New Jersey licensed health officer, Nerwinski said. The Delta variant is more contagious than other variants and causes more severe illness, especially among the unvaccinated. Persons who are fully vaccinated may still become ill, but it is less severe.

In Lawrence, 75% of residents between 18 and 64 years old have received at least one dose of the available vaccines. Of those who are at least 65 years old, the vaccination rate is 100%, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

Nevertheless, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 has been increasing in New Jersey – particularly the Delta variant, Levine said. It is more easily spread from person to person.

The number of confirmed cases of the Delta variant accounted for 51.4% of positive cases of COVID-19 for the week ending July 3, the New Jersey Department of Health said. This includes “break-through” positive tests for people who have received one of the three vaccines.

Within one week’s time – by the week ending July 10, which is the most recent week for reporting – the number of confirmed cases of the Delta variant jumped to 74.5%, the New Jersey Department of Health reported.

“Everyone who is frustrated by the changing guidance from public officials over these past 18 months – whether from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor or the president – should take a step back and remember that COVID-19 presented as a completely new, more lethal virus than the world experienced in more than 100 years,” Nerwinski said.

As medical researchers learn more about COVID-19 – how it spreads and how to treat it – the guidance is changing as the understanding of the virus changes over time, he said. Changes in guidance are to be expected as more is learned about the disease.

“As for the change in policy for visitors and employees in our municipal building, things are fluid in a world health pandemic. The data tells us that we are regressing in our fight against the virus,” he said. “Not changing or adapting to the data would be a dereliction of duty to the community and to our employees.”

While it is still possible to contract COVID-19 in rare break-through cases despite having been vaccinated, officials are urging residents to sign up for a vaccination.

For information about receiving a free vaccination, call the Lawrence Township Health Department at 609-844-7089. The office is open weekdays, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.