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At the very end of each day, Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. spends hours reviewing charts and graphs and summaries that outline how the county is doing with COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths. He says he “gets lost in the numbers” because he’s looking for the way out – the way to do more, help more.

“What’s happening is a day-by-day crisis,” he says. “Late at night, I review everything. I keep thinking, ‘Let me take one more look.’ You want to prevent more deaths, prevent more spread. So I keep looking for what more we can do.”

When the outbreak first started, Cappelli met with county leadership to develop plans for different scenarios, from a mild outbreak to the worst they could imagine. Ultimately, Camden County was the hardest hit in the southern half of the state, cresting 2,000 cases before the end of April, with nearly a quarter of those in Camden City. It is, Cappelli says, “a very bad scenario, but not the worst one.”

The longtime freeholder director spends his days on Zoom calls and in virtual team meetings. He’s on a call with the Gov. twice a week, and on another call with county mayors twice a week. Every day, he has county team calls at 4 pm.

“We have also set up Zoom meetings with different groups. We just had one with all the pastors in Camden City. We have another one scheduled with community leaders. And we’ve had several virtual town halls with Cong. Norcross that were broadcast live on social media. We’re trying to be as transparent as possible with our residents, because we’re fighting this virus with information.”

There’s good reason to be optimistic that efforts have brought the virus under control in South Jersey, but Cappelli says the lessons from this unprecedented situation will stick. “The part we haven’t gotten to is the economy. 35,000 residents of Camden County have filed for unemployment in the last 4 weeks. That’s 7% of our county,” he says.

“I think we presume this is not the only time this will happen,” he says. “So we’ll begin planning for the future. The number-one lesson is we can’t rely on the President or on anyone else. We have to take care of ourselves.”

So that brings him to his nightly review of the data. “It’s the last thing I think about, because this is someone’s grandmother, father, sister, brother. So every night I have that one question: ‘What more could we have done today?’”

May 2020
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