Every year, my colleagues and I highlight advancements throughout the county focused on public safety, infrastructure, health care, social services, business development, and other key indicators of a healthy and thriving community. Of course, over the past year, having a healthy community has taken on a much different, more literal, meaning.
For much of 2020, our singular focus as county officials has been to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has taken more than 700 lives in our community and infected more than 26,000 as of late December. My heart continues to ache for the families who have lost someone to this terrible disease, and the entire Board has kept you in our thoughts and prayers every day since the first day of this crisis.
This year, residents went to incredible lengths to serve their friends and neighbors, and I have never been prouder to be part of this community or to be in its service. From the first responders who put their lives at risk to save others, to the front-line workers who never missed a shift so that others would have access to food and essential goods. We owe you an eternal debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
For our part, responding to this crisis has been a multi-pronged, months-long endeavor. Thanks to the CARES Act, we were able to award $3.2 million to municipalities that applied for it; $28.7 million to our three major healthcare providers; $4 million to support renters whose income has been impacted by the pandemic; and another $30 million to small business owners.
The list of ways we have responded to this crisis are too numerous to list, but residents should rest assured that whether they need meal assistance, library services, safety equipment, or public health information, this body has been and will be supporting them throughout the remainder of this pandemic and during any future crisis.
Furthermore, we saw signs of hope and change in the landscape as we watched with great enthusiasm as our healthcare providers administered the first doses of vaccine to their staff. I’m hopeful the county will have a vaccination site up and operating in the beginning of 2021.
Unfortunately, the pandemic may have required an unprecedented effort to respond to, but it did not displace the public health crises we were already fighting. In February, the Board approved a potentially life-saving pilot program that sought to reduce accidental drug overdoses by distributing Fentanyl testing strips.
Later in the summer, we remembered and honored the members of our community who have been lost to the scourge of the opioid epidemic by unveiling the Remembrance and Hope Memorial in Timber Creek Park. The space now serves as a place of reflection and mourning for the thousands of Camden County residents who have been lost to overdose.
Ensuring and improving public safety continues to be a major component of the Board’s priorities, and we were proud to see that after seven years of fighting to change the landscape in Camden City, the Camden County Police Department became a national model for community relations following the death of George Floyd. Chief Joseph Wysocki, who announced his retirement in the fall, marched with the city’s residents to protest systemic racism and police abuses across the country, and the department as a whole was widely lauded for its use-of-force policy reforms that place the sanctity of human life above all other considerations.
As Chief Wysocki prepares for the next phase of his life, we are extremely grateful for his service and his impact on the community.
Following the social justice movement sparked in the summer, members of this board fought systemic injustices in our state’s naming conventions too, with Commissioner Jon Young and former Commissioner Barbara Holcomb helping lead the charge to change the outdated term “freeholder” to “county commissioner.” As a result, this Board no longer bears a name rooted in racism and exclusion.
In this space, I can only scratch the surface of the multitude of policies, programs, and initiatives enacted in the past year to better the lives of our residents. If you’d like to read more about what the Board of Commissioners has done and is doing to serve our community, please visit CamdenCounty.com, go to our social media handles or join us during a monthly Board meeting.
As we head into 2021, we are prepared to face incredible challenges, but we are even more excited to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities before us to create a safer, more prosperous future.