Newark officials will encourage businesses to limit the number of employees working at any one time as the city begins to reopen from the COVID-19 lockdown, Mayor Ras Baraka said on May 13.
“People are going to get sick when you reopen – that’s going to happen,” Baraka said during a virtual town hall he convened to discuss the impact of the pandemic and the process of restarting the economy. The health care system must be able to handle the new cases and residents “must have room to socially distance,” the mayor added.
He also said reopening would occur in two-week phases, each sector being allowed to reopen 14 days apart. “We want to give ourselves a chance to see if anything spikes,” Baraka explained.
The city will use the benchmarks similar to the milestones the state government is employing to determine when to reopen, including the ability to test individuals for exposure to the virus, contact tracing and isolation, and declining numbers of cases.
Two other participants in the town hall – Carlos Medina, chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and John Harmon, president and chief executive officer of the African American Chamber of Commerce – implored companies to support businesses owned by people of color. Those businesses “don’t have access to years of Rolodexes that other businesses do,” Medina said. He noted that for some companies, 50 percent of their sales come from people of color, but their boards and c-suites do not reflect that diversity.
“We also need to pressure our members to work together, to shop for that insurance agent or shop for that attorney who is diverse,” Medina added.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-29th District, said she was reluctant to talk about reopening because she believes the Legislature should work on ensuring that all communities are treated equitably. In any event, she said, “I can’t tell you what the state of New Jersey’s reopening will look like. It’s a never-ending, moving marker in the sand.”
Other participants were state Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th District; state Education Commissioner and incoming Kean University president Lamont Repollet; and pulmonary critical care physician and founder of OBHealthy Dr. Omar Bey. The event was moderated by Barbara George Johnson, executive director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State University.
A recording of the event, titled “Reopening: Our Resurgence from COVID-19” is available on Newark’s Facebook page.