[UPDATE, 4:40 p.m.: Menna tells redbankgreen he has been released from the hospital after treatment as a presumed-positive patient, according to he chart, though he has not received test results yet. He is home and expects to remain self-isolated for the next two weeks, he said. Meantime, the council workshop meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled.]
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna, who said he is hospitalized “as a precaution” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, blasted former councilwoman Cindy Burnham and an online publication Monday for spreading “rumors” about his health in recent days.
Separately, borough Business Administrator Ziad Shehady told redbankgreen that Burnham “should be brought up on charges” for what he called her “blatant lies” about him.
Menna remained hospitalized at Riverview Medical Center and expected to be “cleared for release very soon,” he told redbankgreen a phone interview Monday morning.
However, he said he had not been in intensive care, as Tap Into Red Bank reported Friday, following multiple Facebook posts by Burnham disclosing that he was hospitalized. And while he had been tested for the COVID-19 virus, he did not yet have the results and did not have key symptoms associated with it, Menna said.
Menna said he drove himself to Riverview on Wednesday, two weeks after he had been in close contact with a borough official he declined to name who had tested positive for the virus. He had been informed of the official’s diagnosis through health investigators, he said.
Because he had undergone heart surgery in May, 2015, his physician advised he go to the hospital to be checked out after he experienced a “slight fever” and cough last week, Menna said.
But contrary to the Tap report, “I was never in ICU,” he said. He was admitted, he said, “out of an abundance of caution.”
The original Tap article is no longer available online. Tap editor Scott Wingerter later appended a note atop the article saying it had been “substantially been re-written since its original publication to show only facts that can be confirmed at this time. We apologize for the original oversights.”
As of Monday, however, the article’s headline still read, “Red Bank Mayor in ICU at Riverview Medical Center for Past Several Days,” a claim repeated in the lead paragraph.
The article followed Facebook posts by Burnham, a former one-term council member, stating that she knew “where the mayor is and I think the rest of the town should know where the mayor is & how he is doing.”
“I don’t know who is running this town right now,” she wrote.
Under borough ordinance, the business administrator, a job held since May, 2018 by Shehady, is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the town.
Menna said that while he has had no visitors since he was hospitalized, he has remained in regular contact with Shehady, police Chief Darren McConnell and OEM coordinator Tommy Welsh.
As previously reported, Shehady said he developed symptoms of the coronavirus on March 14 and learned on March 19 that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He likened his bout with the virus to “a 24 to 48-hour cold,” and said he had never stopped working, even while self-quarantined at his home in Springfield.
Shehady, Menna and about two dozen other people, including school district officials and emergency personnel, had attended a March 11 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new emergency access road to the borough’s primary school. They were also present later that evening with other elected officials a at a council meeting.
Though “people are thought to be most contagious [with COVID-19] when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), some spread might be possible before people show symptoms,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average incubation period before symptoms appear is five days, and 97 percent of victims develop symptoms within 12 days, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Flu Forecasting Center.
As of Monday, 147,527 confirmed or presumed COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States, and almost 2,638 Americans had died, according to ncov2019.live. As of Sunday, 161 New Jersey residents had died from the virus or because of complications associated with it, according to state figures.
Burnham outed Menna’s purported status on Facebook Friday afternoon.
“I know where the mayor is and I think the rest of the town should know where he is and how he is doing,” she wrote. “I think there needs to be a lot more transparency in Red Bank government.”
Shortly after that post went up, Shehady told redbankgreen that, “as with any personnel matters,” he was prohibited from discussing Menna’s health. But he said he had been “speaking with the Mayor daily (some days multiple times) – including today [Friday].”
Shehady also said it was “despicable, and not unsurprising or uncharacteristic of Ms. Burnham to make speculative comments about anyone’s private and personal health without their consent.”
On Monday, Burnham posted this:
Asked to comment, Shehady told redbankgreen:
“Ms. Burnham should be brought up on charges for her defamatory comments and blatant lies. She has no idea what she’s talking about and there is no factual basis for any of her assertions – purely rumor and fear-mongering. She is desperate to stay relevant and will stoop to despicable levels to get attention. Frankly, I feel sad for her.”
In response to a follow-up question about whether he had been “sidelined” from his job by the virus, as alleged by Burnham, Shehady replied:
“I have not been sidelined at any point – Friday, March 13th, I left work around 5:15 p.m. I was working from home throughout the day Saturday (14th) and Sunday (15th) – I was also on a the County OEM conference call at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, March 14, 2020. From Monday the 16th through Monday the 23rd, I was working from home around the clock. I returned to working from the office on Tuesday the 24th. As of Thursday the 19th, I had already been cleared by the CDC and NJDOH guidelines to end isolation, confirmed by the Health Departments of Springfield and Red Bank, as well as my primary care physician. I am confident in my work habits and dedication to the job that I can say, without reservation, I never stop working.”
On Friday, Shehady posted a selfie from a New York City hospital, where he was donating plasma so seriously ill COVID-19 patients could be given antibodies it contains under an experimental treatment.
“She’s a master, excuse me, mistress of rumor,” Menna said of Burnham. “This is no time to pick on people. There are people in here who are very sick – I’ve seen them. There are nurses in here who are afraid. This is a real tragedy.”