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Hurry up and wait: Brigantine mayor scheduled to receive kidney transplant, then COVID-19 happened

BRIGANTINE — Mayor Andy Simpson found a kidney.

It was a monthslong search for a match, with the help of his kids and a billboard on the White Horse Pike in Atlantic City asking for donors.

The match turned out to be Dena Kabala, a family friend and neighbor.

The tests went through. The surgery was scheduled.

The mayor was to get a new kidney March 17. But four days before the surgery, he got an unsettling phone call.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the surgery would be postponed indefinitely. To help slow the spread of the virus, many hospitals around the country have postponed elective surgeries until COVID-19 is no longer a major health risk, especially to those with compromised immune systems.

“Of course there was disappointment,” Simpson said. “I expected it because of what was going on in the world and everything. I was upset, but it was better than going in there and getting corona(virus) and dying. I’m doing OK with dialyses and everything. It wasn’t like I was keeling over or anything like that.”

Simpson, 62, has been a diabetic for more than 30 years. About two years ago, he was hospitalized for appendicitis. At that time, he was given contrast dye, a substance used for imaging, which affected his kidneys.

Rather than rely on an 8-years-long waiting list, his family became proactive and erected the billboard, and made a Facebook page, pleading for a donor.

Kabala was a perfect match and agreed to give Simpson her kidney.

In the days leading up to the scheduled surgery, he had planned on making certain preparations, but it turned into an ordinary weekend. There was no longer anything to prepare for.

“I was getting pre pared to have major surgery, and then I had to come off that high and say, ‘This is the best thing for me,’” he said.

Kabala, 49, got the call from her donor team, through the donor team at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, the same night as Simpson.

Unlike the mayor, she didn’t expect the surgery to be postponed.

“I was upset, I guess,” she said. “You’re prepared, you’re ready for it. It’s the anticipation of waiting for it and not knowing, but I understand with the health risk.”

She wanted to call Simpson right away, but didn’t want him to receive the news by himself. Instead, she called his family first to make sure they were by his side.

“When you’re sick like this, it is discouraging,” she said. “You’re waiting for it, you’re pumped up for it. We were ready for it, and then you get that call.”

They both were very quiet on the phone, but knew the decision to postpone the surgery was in their best interest.

“But it plays on your mind,” she said. “At the time I was thinking, ‘Oh a couple days from now I’d be coming home from surgery.’ Now, it would’ve been behind us. In the end, I just have to think that I have to stay healthy and he has to stay healthy. My goal is to stay healthy so we can continue this process.”

Both Simpson and Kabala have been self-quarantined since mid-March. Going into surgery, they were told they couldn’t have any ailments. Not a head cold, not the flu, not even a sniffle.

They’re currently taking extra precautions as Simpson got word the surgery may now happen sooner rather than later.

And last week, he was told the surgery is now planned to move forward in the coming weeks.

“Probably within three weeks I’ll have the kidney,” he said. “There’s no date or anything yet, but they’re talking that it’s going to be soon.”

But pre-op and post-op will look different, he said.

He and his donor will be quarantined, separately, before and after the surgery and will be tested for COVID-19.

And although Simpson remains optimistic, there’s always uncertainty. He’s waited for so long. He was so close. It’s hard for him to get his hopes up until it actually happens.

“Not knowing when I’m going to get (the kidney) is the hardest part,” he said. “I was excited before, but got let down, so I’m not really thinking about it until I get the phone call.”


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Sustainability lessons learned from the coronavirus

Haley Vernon's life has changed since the coronavirus outbreak. Vernon, 21, who lives in Ocean City, is driving less and conserving more. Shopping trips to the supermarket are thought out and fewer, and she's doing more cooking and baking.

And Vernon isn't alone.

If there is anything positive since the coronavirus outbreak it may be that people are conserving more. With the governor's “stay-at-home” order, people are definitely traveling less. Air travel, gas use and coal burning are all down, and air quality has been better for it.

Conservation extends to products such as paper. Trying to purchase paper products, especially toilet paper, is like trying to find a Cabbage Patch doll in the 1980s. One recent Facebook post remarked that we used to spin the toilet paper roll like a roulette wheel, now it's turned like we're trying to crack a safe.

People going to the stores less frequently, consolidating trips. In short, conserving.

“Our life has changed dramatically,” said Anthony Gaud, 50, an esports executive from Linwood, says of his family of four. “We used to go out several times a week, now we go out once a week. We walk quite a bit more. I walked about 30 miles last week.”

And Victoria Saunders, of Ventnor, who is still able to work in a garden center, says she has noticed more people buying fruits and vegetables and showing an interest in growing their own food.

Working from home has made teleconferencing apps such as Zoom a replacement for the workplace meeting, not to mention family get-togethers. According to a MarketWatch report, the Zoom app is currently the top free offering in Apple's App Store, and a JPMorgan analysis says data indicates that daily usage was up more than 300% from before the pandemic forced workers into their homes.

Other reports show that people are more concerned with shopping locally and growing our own food, with the issue of animals spreading diseases to humans, or zoonosis, and our connectivity to the rest of the world has been brought to the front and center.

We're even throwing away less. The Atlantic County Utilities Authority said in a statement that they have seen an overall decrease, nearly 30%, in trash coming into the facility since nonessential businesses and schools have closed.

They added that there was an uptick in residential trash, as more people are staying home, eating in, and clearing out basements and shed.

Add it all together and it looks like the raising of a collective sustainability consciousness.

But will these habits practiced during the pandemic continue after the crisis is over?

“This experience will make a difference, I hope,” said Dr. Patrick Hossay, associate professor of sustainability at Stockton University. “ I think it will make a difference in the way we think about the world, the way we think about our collective future. I don't think it will make a difference in terms of habit and our everyday activity.

“While people are driving less, the air is cleaner, and we're learning that we can do with less materialism. This may not be enough of a wake-up call to change the way we do things if we want a better world,” he said. “I think we will snap back into our old behavior as soon as get the green light.”

What's needed for lasting change, according to Hossay, is policy and infrastructure change. He believes this could lead a large percentage of Americans expecting our government cooperate on international climate change legislation.

Dr. Elke Weber, a Princeton professor of psychology and a professor of energy and the environment, believes that it would be hard to predict the lasting effects of our behavioral change, but the crisis may give us a better understanding of world issues, how they effect us and our reliance on science.

“One thing I would hope might happen,” Weber said, “is that a broader range of citizens will (re)establish their belief in science and in the ability of scientists to predict the future in order to inform policy makers and citizens of best response options and ways forward.”

Hossay and Weber are both fearful of a rebound effect where Americans try to make up for lost time by driving more and going back to old behaviors at full speed once there is an "all clear."

One behavior that Gaud believes will stick around after things get back to normal is the use of telecommunication tools. He says he routinely uses Zoom for conferencing at work, and his family will connect several times a week through the app.

“Our family Zooms once or twice a week as a group, 10 or 15 of us,” he says. “We've never done that before and I hope that continues.”

For Saunders, who is a sustainability student at Stockton, the things that people will continue to do will be determined by their preexisting preference for that lifestyle.

“Those that enjoy being self-sufficient and growing their own food and traveling less might continue to do so,” she says. But she also thinks there may be a significant increase in travel when the restrictions are lifted for those that have been itching to get back on the road.

“I think I've definitely realized that I don't need to go out four or five times to pick up something, that I can make due with what I have,” Vernon, who is 21 and also a sustainability student at Stockton, said of traveling less.

She believes she'll be leaving the car parked even when we're allowed back on the roads. But the main thing Vernon believes will stick is the realization that we are connected to the world.

“There are issues beside this pandemic, like global warming,” she says, “and this might be the something that opens people's eyes and that we're all in this together. This is just one Earth that we have and we need to be careful with it.”

Hossay agrees that the biggest lesson related to sustainability will be that sense of connectiveness.

“The virus has allowed us to see the way that we are all connected, he said. “A virus from halfway around the world has changed the entire human landscape across the planet. Clearly, our connectiveness, our common stake in public health and environmental issues is now evident to us.”

And if that change happens, Hossay believes there is a better chance at battling other global threats.

This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project.


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Emissions reduction from COVID-19 brings short-term benefits, little long-term gain

The shelter-in-place orders in New Jersey, and other states, have resulted in a 30% drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over the northeastern United States in March, compared to the average of the previous five years, according to NASA.

“It is making the air cleaner, and if the reduction in traffic continues into the warmer weather, it should have an effect on ozone pollution. It (NO2) can be converted to other things. Under strong sunlight it can turn into ozone. Ozone pollution can make it harder to breathe,” said Anthony Broccoli, distinguished professor and the chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University.

Much of the reductions have been due to a drastic drop in transportation. The number of passengers going through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints in the United States were 109,567 per day, on average, during April.

Last year, it was 2,337,486, a 95.3% decline.

Projected April 2020 usage of gasoline and coal was expected to be 36% and 22% lower, respectively, than April 2019, according to data complied by Yale University.

“As overall greenhouse gas emissions go down with overall economic recession, households are faced with a new consumption pattern,” said Rachael Shwom, an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers. “The carbon footprint of their travel is down to almost zero for many as they stay at home, not driving or flying for weeks or months at a time.”

While there have been short-term benefits to the air around us, this recent drop plays a negligible role in combating climate change, unless drops were to continue into the future as the economy reopens.

“The climate doesn’t care about emissions in one year. It cares about the sum total of all emissions emitted across the years, so what matters for climate change is what happens next.” said Robert E. Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

In March, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii still reported an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, in the air compared to the previous March.

Unlike NO2, which have a relatively short atmospheric lifetime, the atmosphere lifetime of CO2, along with other greenhouse gases, is much longer.

“If you have to wait for natural processes to remove it from the atmosphere, it would take centuries or thousands of years,” Broccoli said.

The recession of 2007-08 proves this point and can be used as an example of what is happening in 2020. The reduction in emissions then was about 10% to 20%. Still, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air continued to rise at Mauna Loa.

“It’s like filling up a bathtub without the drain. If you turn off the water for a little while and then turn it back it on, you’re only delaying the amount of time it takes to fill it up. ... What’s really needed to stay below the 2-degree threshold is a much larger reduction in emissions that stays into the future.” Broccoli said.

Renewable energy was projected to be on the rise for April 2020. Wind and solar were both expected to see a 20% rise, according to Yale, due to the falling cost of production electricity in conjunction with new generation capacity.

Broccoli sees similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change when it comes to impacts it has on people’s health.

“In the case of the pandemic, it was something that came on very suddenly and the effect it has on people’s health, there’s no avoiding it.” Broccoli said. “Climate change is also an issue that can have impacts on virtually everyone on earth, but it’s something that’s unfolding much more slowly. In a way, I think this reminds us that when you have adverse situations that impact people, the effects are truly global and the effects are truly serious.”

The pandemic shutdown has given governments the chance to pause and reflect on how to approach the future. According to Kopp, climate change should be included in this as well.

“As we rebuild our economy, are we going to invest in a green stimulus that places the United States and the world on a path toward net-zero carbon emissions and a stable climate? Or are we going to try to bail out the fossil fuel industry and put all the pieces back to where they were last year? From a climate change perspective, that’s the real question.” Kopp said.


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State closes Corsons Inlet beach in Ocean City and dog beach to visitors Sunday

Two popular beaches near Ocean City that are overseen by New Jersey were closed to visitors Sunday, just a day after Gov. Phil Murphy allowed state and county parks to reopen.

State park service and wildlife management officials closed parking lots and beach access at Corsons Inlet State Park and the dog beach at the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area until further notice. The boat ramp at Corson’s Inlet State Park remained open.

The areas were closed due to excessive visitors and noncompliance with social distancing measures, said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Throughout New Jersey, many people are visiting state parks and forests this weekend. Preliminary reports indicate that the majority of visitors are respecting social distancing requirements,” Hajna said.

Hajna said social distancing requirements are being strictly enforced and parking is being limited to 50% capacity at state parks.

Hajna also said visitors to state parks are reminded to:

  • Stay 6 feet away from each other;
  • Wear face coverings to help protect themselves and fellow park visitors;
  • Visit the park nearest to their home;
  • Visit parks alone or with immediate family only. No group gatherings;
  • Do not picnic, set up chairs, blankets or coolers, or go swimming;
  • Park only in designated areas.

Officials posted signs, placed up barriers and forced those with dogs to leave Malibu Beach in Egg Harbor Township between Ocean City and Longport on Sunday.

Jason Dougherty had driven an hour from his home in Logan Township, Gloucester County, with his wife, two daughters and their 1-year old five-breed mix. He was a little disappointed after the long drive.

“To get out for some salt air would have been worth it,” Dougherty said. But he also said he understood why the state closed it Sunday.

“We both work in hospitals,” he said. “It’s not worth the risk.”

He didn’t want to make an attempt on the Boardwalk but they planned to drive into Ocean City to park and walk around.

Pat and Bruce Ilgenfritz of Brick Township, Ocean County, were out for a long drive with their dog Stuart on Sunday as well. They made the drive to the dog beach at least five times last season.

“We had so much fun last year,” Pat said. “The dogs love it.”

The Ilgenfritzs took the opportunity to stretch their eight combined legs before continuing their afternoon drive. They’re not sure what the pandemic will mean for the upcoming season but expect they’ll attempt to visit the dog beach again in the future.

For the parks that were open, the Park Service asked on Facebook that visitors keep their trips under two hours so others could visit as well. Bathroom facilities were closed and picnicking was prohibited.

The state also posted on Facebook state parks that were overrun Saturday, including Barnegat Lighthouse on Long Beach Island, and asked that individuals consider visiting other areas on Sunday in an attempt to spread out the crowds.

Large crowds were also reported Saturday at the Batsto Village parking area in Wharton State Forest, Burlington County, forcing the state to close the parking lot.

ATLANTIC COUNTY REPORTS 40 NEW CASES, 1 DEATH

Atlantic County reported 40 more individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the county's total to 1,099 people. 

The death of an 97-year old women in an Absecon long-term care facility means 49 have died from COVID-19 related issues in the county and 198 have been cleared as recovered.

The new cases were comprised of 24 men, ages 33-98 and 16 women, ages 24-92.

They were spread between Northfield (13), Galloway Township (9), Atlantic City (5), Pleasantville (4), Hammonton (4), Egg Harbor Township (2), Absecon (1), Corbin City (1) and Hamilton Township (1).

Drive-thru testing will resume Monday for those with appointments at the Hamilton Mall testing site. Individuals whose tests were cancelled on April 30 because of high winds can be tested Monday at the same time of day as their original appointment.

Appointments are available for symptomatic county residents with a prescription from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day and can be made online at aclink.org.

Also Sunday, the Cape May County Department of Health listed 11 new positive patients for a total of 361 cases with 23 deaths and 155 recovered. No new deaths were reported by the county Sunday.

The New Jersey Department of Health said Sunday 126,744 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide and 7,871 people have died. 

The state said Atlantic County had 26 new cases for a total of 1,075 and 49 deaths. Cape May County was shown with seven new cases for a total of 344 and 24 deaths.

The state said Cumberland County had 73 new cases for a total of 881 and 17 deaths. Ocean County was reported to have 140 new cases for 6,871 total cases with 440 deaths.

County Executive Dennis Levinson wants everyone to pay tribute to public safety employees during National Correctional Officers and Employees week from May 4-10.

“Now, perhaps more than ever before, these dedicated individuals deserve our recognition and appreciation as they put themselves at risk by serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Levinson said. “Their jobs are extremely challenging under the best circumstances, but this current crisis tests them even more. We are extremely grateful for their dedication to protect and serve.”