Fort Lee Prepares for Second Wave of COVID

By James Laughlin
Special Correspondent

FORT LEE, N.J. — “We’re already at 60 positive cases from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12, so the second wave is hitting Fort Lee,” Mayor Mark Sokolich said on a townwide COVID-19 teleconference Nov. 14. 

A total of 740 positive cases and 49 deaths caused by COVID-19 have been reported since March, the mayor said.  

Jill Scarpa, the Fort Lee Health Officer, said even though there’s a rise in cases, “With the high population density and the high-rise living, the case count could be much higher, so the precautions put in place have made a difference.” 

Fort Lee has a population of nearly 40,00 people in the 3-square miles the municipality occupies, many in high rises. The community has 10 buildings that are 80 meters or higher, including the north and south Modern towers at 152 meters, according to the Skyscraper Center.

High-rise apartment buildings have enacted new rules that limit deliveries to just the building lobby, having guests sign a waiver confirming they have not previously been exposed to COVID before entering, and signs posted in the lobbies to announce limited elevator capacities. 

But, the simplest method of protection, emphasized by the CDC — wearing a mask — can be a problem. 

Some residents of Fort Lee’s high-rise apartment buildings called in to complain about those who don’t wear a mask in the elevator. 

“We were considering whether or not we can adopt a local ordinance to impose a fine to those who don’t wear masks. Nothing makes me, or the group I’m with here tonight, more irate than people who are selfish who don’t wear masks,” said Sokolich. “You must report it immediately to management, it is a flagrant violation not to wear a mask.”

All 70 Municipalities in Bergen County Report Positive Cases

Teaneck and Hackensack have the highest number of cases with 1,352 and 1,726, respectively. Overall, nearly 27,000 presumptive positive cases have been recorded in Bergen County as of Nov. 6. 

“The rate of transmission was reported to be 1.30 in New Jersey, and anything above 1 indicates community spread,” Scarpa said.  Warning signs and data are rising for the whole state. The nonprofit Covid Act Now deems the entire state at risk for an active outbreak.

The mayor and council will continue to follow the guidelines instituted by Gov. Phil Murphy such as encouraging towns to put limits on indoor dining, and imposing 8 p.m. curfews on nonessential businesses. 

“We don’t have the power to arrest — I’m not suggesting we want to go and arrest people —  but, it would be a great incentive to those 1% that persist to not comply with warnings from the governor and CDC, and it becomes very frustrating,” said Mayor Sokolich. 

The Fort Lee council will continue to follow the governor’s instructions and will use what was learned from handling the horrific first wave that hit the town in the spring and the summer.

“Our task force is meeting daily and going over some of the operations we performed during the first wave to help us hamper down the second wave we get,” said Bryan Drumgoole, coordinator of the Fort Lee Office of Emergency Management. “The emergency services are well prepared, our PPE is stockpiled, and we are here to answer any COVID or nonCOVID-related calls.”

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Map of Bergen County municipalities with positive COVID cases. Chart via Bergen County website (