INTERVIEW: Mayor David Fried Talks COVID-19

DocWire News: What are some of the steps that you have taken in your community to assist the local healthcare providers or the community at large?

Mayor David Fried: We were fortunate. When we saw this breaking loose in China, I had a feeling that this might turn into a bigger issue than we had thought about. I actually called our team together and we began purchasing supplies, ordering cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment, and started really preparing for what may be coming. Back in early January we were well ahead of the curve and that put us in a pretty good situation.

We were very fortunate and we started immediately providing it to a number of the local authorities. We started providing it and sharing it with other towns. We started providing and sharing it with the county. We were also very lucky in that we had a very large BAPS temple in our town and they’ve been great community partners with us. They were also able to give us a tremendous amount of donations of masks, gloves, cleaning equipment. We’ve been able to really stay in front of a lot of what was happening and also we’ve been a resource for the rest of the county, in terms of having these supplies and having them be available to our residents. Once we got all of our front-line workers equipped with PPE, we then started to hand it out to our seniors. We also started trying to provide cleaning supplies to those who are infected. Then just this week we started handing out masks to the general population. We’re out between 9:30 and noon every day giving out masks to the residents so that everyone can be protected.

What are some of the challenges that you face? I know you said you got out ahead of the curve early, but have there been roadblocks or has there been anything that’s been annoying in the process?

One of the things that we got early was we had a large supply of the malaria medicine (hydroxychloroquine sulfate) brought into the region, but the governor decided to change the rules on that malaria medicine. While it doesn’t work for everyone, it does work for some people. They changed the rules so that you could not receive the malaria medicine unless you had tested positive. The challenge that we had at least locally was, it was very, very difficult to get tested. So we had the medicine, we knew that it worked at least for some portion of the population, but we couldn’t get that population tested. Therefore, we couldn’t get the medicine to the right people.

That was frustrating. In response we set up a local testing site in town. Robbinsville is actually the only town in Mercer County right now that has its own local testing [site]. Mercer County is a testing for the county, but there are [only] two sites in Mercer County right now, and we’re actually one of them.

On the flip side of that, what do you think has worked, if anything, exceptionally well or maybe better than you had anticipated?

The volunteerism and the donations have been incredible. I’ve been trying to communicate with our community via Facebook, which has turned into a good vehicle not only let people know what’s happening, but also to be able to ask for help. We’ve been asking for cleaning supplies and we’ve been asking for volunteers. Once you have an entire family with the virus, it gets difficult for them to go out. So we’ve now got volunteers willing to shop for families and even little things that you might take for granted. Walking your dog and doing some other things when the entire family is infected, these little things become more and more difficult.

The volunteerism in our community has been incredible. Every time I put out a post and asked for things, I immediately get responses. The donations have been incredible. We’re seeing the need for food increase dramatically. Our Meals on Wheels has now quadrupled. Our food pantry is being used more often than we’ve ever seen before. We’re starting to see the needs of those who have been out of work for a long period of time start to mount up. I was not a fan of the closure of the parks. I think people need to go out and exercise. We kept our local parks open. I was a little disappointed to see the state and the county parks closed.

My biggest concerns right now are with the food supply and making sure that that continues. Making sure that we can continue to get the supplies that we need and also people being able to have the resources to be able to just provide themselves the normal necessities.

Do you have any advice that you could share from the experience here with other mayors of maybe a town similar size? Are there best practices that you’ve been following?

If you can find a way to communicate effectively with the community, that is number one. I’ve been lucky, as most of the town follows my Facebook posts and I’ve been communicating very well. The more you communicate with people, I think, the better off you’re going to be.

Bad news doesn’t get any better. It’s better to get out in front of it, let people know what’s happening and then being willing to ask for help. None of us are infallible and I find every time I need help, I put it out there and my residents help me figure it out. We have a lot of very smart people in our communities. So you don’t have to do it all yourself. Ask for help, ask for volunteers. And you’d be surprised how quickly you can be able to respond to things.

I think we’re probably one of the only towns in the region that are literally handing out masks to every resident and we were able to do so because we got in front of as much as we possibly could and we asked for help. And this one, knew that one and we were able to purchase, get donations and be able to provide things for our residents.

Do you have any advice for any medical personnel or hospitals or doctors or care facilities that would be partnering with local governments? Is there anything that they can do to enhance the two way communication and make sure that everything works as well as it can?

We’ve been blessed. We have had a local connection with one of our pharmacies, who had a connection to bring in the malaria medicine to help treat our residents. We’ve had a number of doctors sharing with us what seems to be working with their patients. We’ve had an urgent care center partner with the township and they were actually willing to put a testing facility on site right at the municipal building, where they did the testing. We provided the logistics as well as the traffic control and everything else. We have done a number of public private partnerships. Working with our churches, our pastors in this community are more like generals in organizing donations and also making sure that those who have the virus are taken care of.

Lastly, making sure that those who have the virus don’t feel like they’re being a bother. Don’t feel like they’re somehow being excluded from your community. We had a lot of people who wanted to know, who it was or where it was. We had a lot of residents who had the virus who were feeling like they were wearing the scarlet letter. We immediately tried to change the tone of that because those who are coming out of recovery and we’ve literally got as many people right now coming out of recoveries we have going in, which is a tremendous statistic. These are our new superheroes. These are the folks that I can send on the front lines. These are the folks who are now donating their antibodies from their blood. These are the folks that I can send to those who have viruses currently going on and can go shopping.

I really think that the more we communicate with those who have the virus and show them that we’re here for them, it is going to encourage them to pay it forward and be there for the next person. I know that our residents who are speaking to people who’ve gone through the virus who have just recently tested positive have found that to be a really meaningful thing to be able to talk to someone who’s gone through it, can share with them some of what’s going to happen. That has been something that those who are going through the virus right now have been very grateful for.