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Vineland man’s 48-day hospital stay backs experts’ cry that we’re ‘not out of the woods yet’

In April, Juan Duran, 49, started to feel tired while working in the morning, which he said was highly unusual.

The symptoms progressed into fever, redness on his feet and losing his sense of taste. In early May, he started having trouble breathing, which is when his wife took him to the emergency room.

“I started to feel sick very fast and honestly did not believe this would get out of hand so fast,” said Duran, of Vineland. “I did not believe my medical condition was serious at all. I have never been sick in my life or ever had any surgeries or even been admitted to the hospital. I never once believed I would get this sick. I didn’t even think I would be admitted when I first walked in the hospital.”

He ended up in the hospital battling COVID-19 for 48 days.

While the average hospital stay due to the coronavirus varies depending on the individual, Evelyn Balogun, medical director for urgent care and occupational health at Inspira Health, said patients typically stay anywhere from a few days to two to three weeks, based on data she’s seen from other hospitals.

And while New Jersey is one of the few states where positive cases are going down, Gov. Phil Murphy has urged residents on a daily basis to remain vigilant.

“This is among us folks,” Murphy said at his Monday COVID-19 briefing. “Any of us who think we can just put our feet up and relax and let this take its course is not paying attention.”

With sports slowly resuming, people enjoying their summer and back-to-school season fast approaching, health officials say Duran is a cautionary tale, and warn that it’s no time to let up on keeping safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Balogun’s concern going forward is the start of flu season, which begins in October.

“If we lose ground heading into flu season, that could negatively impact our community,” she said. “The success that we’ve seen in New Jersey is really indicative to how well we adhere to the public health guidance, like social distancing and using masks. While we’re in a better situation, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Even as Americans, particularly young Americans, are eager to get back to their social lives, it is very important to protect their own health and the health of their friends and family, Balogun said.

“There’s a lot that we did not know when this pandemic first started. At that time, much of what was put out did suggest that this is more an infection for older people, 65 and older,” she said. “Unfortunately, when we look at all the demographics, there is no age or demographic that has been spared. While younger people are still thought to be at less risk for becoming infected, they are not immune.”

Duran is unsure how he contracted the virus, saying he and his family took every precaution to keep themselves safe. He didn’t have any underlying health conditions, other than high cholesterol.

For those who experience prolonged hospital stays, while they no longer may be infectious, they may have other lingering complications, such as respiratory disease, Balogun said. If not monitored, those complications could lead to secondary complications, such as blood clots, pulmonary embolism or stroke.

It all depends on the person and their comorbidities — whether they have two or more chronic diseases simultaneously, she said.

While he was never on a ventilator, Duran was on oxygen and received a plasma transfusion. The transfusion is part of a Mayo Clinic-led study Inspira is participating in that takes blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 and uses it to treat patients with severe or worsening COVID-19 symptoms. The antibodies in the plasma are thought to help the sick patient better fight the virus, said Paul Simon, spokesman for Inspira.

“There are no words that could ever describe how I felt,” Duran said of his hospital stay. “I did feel scared, but not for me. I felt scared for my family and leaving them alone.”

He maintained contact with his family through video chat, socialized with the staff and watched television and movies on his phone.

“I tried to keep my mind busy so I would not think the worst,” he said.

He also grew close with the staff.

“They took care of me well, and always felt heard when I had a concern or my daughter had a question,” he said. “I loved all the staff, and they definitely made my stay so much easier and pleasant despite my medical concerns.”

Duran was released on Father’s Day to go home to his wife, four kids and his cat and dog. Even though he’s not fully recovered, he’s happy to be in his own bed. His family cleans and sanitizes his room and keeps a distance from him if they feel sick.

“I was told by doctors my recovery will be long,” he said. “Overall, there is no place like home. I am very blessed to have a second chance at life.”

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. says the city has increased seasonal staff and back-filled public works positions to allow for extra cleaning along the Boardwalk.

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Shore towns increase cleaning staffs to combat boardwalk litter

Up and down the coast, boardwalks and beaches have seen a significant increase in litter as more people pack them and COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease.

Due in part to an increase in outdoor dining and takeout orders, images of the trash have made their way to social media, to the displeasure of residents and vacationers alike.

It’s an issue officials are well aware of and have begun to address.

“Due to the influx of visitors, we have increased our seasonal staff to 30 people,” Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said, “and we’re also back-filling — no new hires — back-filling vacant public works positions. So that’s 37 more people that we have at the ready.”

The garbage seems to only be a problem for the first few hours of each morning. Discarded pizza boxes and drink containers can be seen on the ground and on Boardwalk benches, and beach visitors regularly leave their belongings on the sand.

By the time the Boardwalk sees peak foot traffic in the afternoon, much of that is gone.

Small said cleaning crews are out every morning, and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority workers clean throughout the rest of the day.

Marcus McManus comes to the Atlantic City Boardwalk from Berkeley Township, Ocean County, at least once a month. He said he thinks the city’s work is paying off.

“I was pretty surprised (by the cleanliness),” said McManus, 64. “The beach looks really good.”

The city is doing the most it can to make its historic walkway presentable, Small said.

“These are trying times,” he said, “and that’s no excuse, but we’ve answered the clarion call and were proactive, and we’re giving it the necessary tools to succeed.”

Officials are also counting on visitors to do their part and heed the signs posted along the Boardwalk.

“We have all the signage that we need to deter (littering),” Small said. “At the end of the day, these are hopefully responsible adults that are going to do the right thing. And since they love coming to visit Atlantic City, they’re going to do what they can to take care of Atlantic City.”

Ryan Anderson, who comes to the Boardwalk twice a week from Philadelphia, thinks visitors are doing just that.

“It seems pretty clean,” said Anderson, 42. “I feel like everyone’s being responsible.”

Farther south along the shore, Ocean City has been facing a similar issue due to the fact that indoor dining isn’t yet permitted in the state.

Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy halted plans to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity, citing a lack of compliance over the use of masks and social distancing.

“Ocean City has seen an increased volume of trash due in part to the takeout and outdoor dining requirements,” city Public Information Officer Doug Bergen said. “The city has greatly increased the frequency of trash pickup routes.”

Bergen added the city has provided special receptacles for pizza boxes, and it’s been working with merchants to develop ways to reduce the bulk of takeout containers.

In previous summers, Bergen said, two two-person teams made periodic runs down the Boardwalk to empty trash and recycling bins. Now, four two-person crews continuously loop the Boardwalk.

“In addition, two supervisors patrol the Boardwalk and are available to address trash and other issues in need of immediate attention,” Bergen said.

EHT presents preliminary plans for return to school in 2020-21

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Students in the township could return to school two days a week for half days and receive three days of virtual instruction under one of four proposals the local school district presented during a special meeting Tuesday.

During the nearly five-hour-long virtual public meeting, the Egg Harbor Township School District shared its preliminary plans for a return to school in the fall that included several options for hybrid learning (both in-person and at-home) and addressed health and safety, scheduling, special education, technology, transportation and school meals.

“I think this has been a very, very long, but a very productive meeting,” board President Pete Castellano said as the meeting came to an end about 11 p.m. “We know that this task ahead of us is very, very difficult and it’s an unprecedented task.”

More than 85 members of the district’s planning committee, including current and former teachers, administrators, parents and other community members, participated in the meeting.

Superintendent Kim Gruccio, who led the presentation, said a final plan will be presented to the school board Aug. 3 for its approval, although board attorney Amy Houck Elco said she is researching whether board approval is necessary.

All districts must submit their plans to the state for approval by early August.

The district’s plans were modeled to be in line with the Department of Education’s “Road Back” reopening guidelines that were released at the end of June.

The district proposed two schedule options — one that would have one day a week dedicated to all remote-learning and one with alternating days over two weeks — and two proposals based off 25% or 50% capacity.

Gruccio said the idea for offering a half-day program was based on the state’s guidance regarding exposure.

“We do not want to keep groups of folks in the same place longer than we have to,” she said.

According to other presenters from the planning committee, the extra time at the end of the day would allow teachers to plan with each other and to meet with students one-on-one, virtually.

The district is also considering pushing back the start date for students and rearranging professional development for staff to ease the process.

The Egg Harbor Township School District serves more than 7,300 students and employs nearly 1,200 staff members over eight schools and two administrative offices.

The challenges facing the district in its effort to reopen are complicated by financial limitations as it has received less state aid than it was entitled to under the state’s school funding laws for more than a decade, despite a large growth in enrollment over the same period that only recently began to level out.

Schools in New Jersey closed in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the state and since June have been planning for at least some in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year.

NJ releases flexible guidance for schools to reopen in September

TRENTON — Teachers and staff in masks, more cleaning and disinfecting, and rearranged classrooms will be among the changes in place when New Jersey’s public and nonpublic schools reopen this fall, according to guidance released by the Department of Education on Friday.

While New Jersey was able to slow the spread of the virus and continues to report positive numbers for rate of transmission and hospitalizations, in other states, the virus has seen a surge.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy — reacting to parents’ concerns — released additional guidance that mandates school districts allow parents to select an all-remote option for their children.

On Wednesday, a bill that would delay in-person instruction until at least Oct. 31 was introduced by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Pamela Lampitt and Joann Downey. Murphy, in his COVID-19 response briefing Wednesday, continued to advocate for some in-person learning, citing equity issues.

Even with some aspect of in-person learning, families, especially those with just one parent or where both parents work full time, will be facing difficult decisions come September in terms of employment and child care.

Castellano said he plans to release answers to all public questions about the plan in a document on the district website in the coming days.

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Investigation ongoing into Wildwood police officer's use of force during arrest

WILDWOOD — An investigation into a police officer’s use of force during an arrest this month remains ongoing.

Asked Tuesday via email for details about the officer involved, including his name, and whether he is still working or is on paid or unpaid suspension during the investigation, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland said he is awaiting permission from the state Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to release information.

Steven Barnes, director of communications for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office is assisting the county Prosecutor’s Office in their review before deferring to the Prosecutor’s Office for comment.

A widely shared video of a July 12 arrest shows a white officer punching a prone Black man with both fists between 3 and 3:30 a.m. in the 3700 block of Pacific Avenue, according to previous reports.

The objective of the preliminary investigation is to determine whether the actions of the arresting officer or officers potentially violated the use of justifiable force to effect an arrest or any related criminal statutes, Sutherland said in a statement announcing the investigation following the incident.

This is not the first time the department has been under scrutiny for an officer’s use of force.

Two years ago, a video of a Philadelphia woman being violently arrested on the beach over Memorial Day weekend made international news after footage taken by a bystander appeared online.

Emily Weinman ended up pleading guilty to a disorderly person’s offense after she was originally charged with aggravated assault by spitting bodily fluids at/on a police officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction and minor in possession of alcohol.

The three Class II, or seasonal, officers involved in the arrest, Thomas Cannon, John Hillman and Robert Jordan, did not face criminal charges.

Weinman has since filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Camden, alleging she was “brutally and senselessly assaulted” by police in front of her 18-month-old daughter on Memorial Day weekend 2018.

In 2019, 79 complaints were filed against city police officers, according to three pages of professional standards summary report forms posted on the department’s website, including seven citizen complaints of excessive force. Of those complaints, three were exonerated and four were not sustained.

Generally, an exonerated disposition means the alleged incident did happen, but the actions of the officer were found to be justified, while not sustained can mean that an investigation did not clearly prove or disprove an allegation.

While many police departments publish a report each year detailing crime statistics, internal affairs data and community policing efforts, an Open Public Records Act request for these reports from the city for 2015 to present came back with only 2015.

In 2015, there were 11 excessive force complaints against officers, according to that year’s report. Of the total, eight were exonerated, two were marked active and one was not sustained.

Officials have urged anyone who has video or photographic footage of the events of July 12 to call the prosecutor’s Professional Standards Unit at 609-465-1135.