During a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced 2,492 new positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey with an additional 19 deaths. These cases bring the statewide total to 6,876 cases with 81 deaths.
“(COVID-19) does not spread on its own. It spreads person to person,” he said. “The more you stay home — unless we absolutely need you in our response efforts — the slower the spread and the flatter the curve gets.”
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said they have issued a Department of Health executive order. Under this order, she said level one trauma-designated hospitals will be named as the coordinating entities for their regions. This includes monitoring surges in critical care bed utilization as well as being consultants to the field hospitals and liaisons with the Department of Health advisory group.
“We’re encouraging all hospitals and healthcare providers to work together in their regions to ensure all of the residents of New Jersey that need care get the care that they require,” Persichilli said. “Our expectation is that the need for critical beds is being felt now and prior to what we would call the actual surge in cases requiring hospitalization, since the significantly symptomatic individuals are entering our hospitals at a faster rate.”
She said the surge in COVID-19 cases requires hospitals to now focus on their plans to increase their critical care bed capacity.
Persichilli also provided updated results for approximately 90 percent of the number of positive tests in comparison to the total number of tests given in New Jersey. With 6,137 positive tests out of 19,364 tests performed, she said New Jersey now has an overall positivity rate of approximately 31.7 percent.
In regards to school closures, Murphy said it was brought to his attention that certain New Jersey schools have already provided information to residents for when they plan to open. He said he will be the one to make this decision and does not plan to revisit and reconsider this matter until at least April 17.
“The decision to reopen will be based on careful discussion with our public health and safety experts, and with our educators and districts,” he said. “It will be guided by the facts on the ground.”
Murphy also announced that the Bergen Community College and PNC Bank Arts Center drive-through testing sites will open only to symptomatic healthcare workers and first responders on Saturday. The PNC Bank Arts Center will then be open every Saturday, beginning April 4, to symptomatic healthcare workers and first responders only.
He said these testing sites will begin operating on a new schedule for the public on Sunday as well. While the new schedule remains underdetermined, Murphy said individuals can find information when it becomes available on New Jersey’s COVID-19 website. He said they do know that the sites will perform 500 tests on symptomatic individuals on the days they are open.
“We are taking this extraordinary step to preserve the health and safety of the tremendous women and men working at these sites,” he said.
The Daily Targum previously reported that Murphy had been in contact with Vice President Mike Pence regarding a major disaster declaration request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In the press conference, Murphy said President Donald J. Trump has approved this request. He said this will give them access to more Federal Reserve support to help New Jersey residents. This is unrelated to a potential aid package he discussed during a previous press conference, he said.
Unemployment for residents of New Jersey was also discussed. Murphy said 155,000 residents applied for unemployment last week, which is 16 times the number of residents that applied for unemployment the week before. The Targum previously reported that Murphy extended unemployment benefits to approximately 13 weeks, allowing those who are self-employed, part-time and gig economy workers to become eligible for these benefits.
Murphy also said the Economic Development Authority Board held a conference call to approve a $75 million program to support small businesses affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“Overall, this program will be able to provide direct financial assistance and support for, we believe, between 3,000 and 5,000 small businesses,” he said. “The majority of New Jerseyans work for small businesses. So, this isn’t just about supporting our small and midsize business owners, which it is, it is also about supporting the many men and women who work for them.”
Murphy reiterated a resource available for unemployed New Jersey residents on the state’s COVID-19 website, where individuals can find job postings from essential businesses. As of today, more than 35,000 job openings have been posted by more than 300 employers on the site, he said.
Issues involving negative actions against specific groups throughout the state were also discussed. Murphy said there continue to be actions taken against certain state populations, specifically the Asian-American, Korean and Jewish communities.
Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said since they first began tracking these and other incidents of noncompliant behavior, they have had 13 cases, with six resulting in disorderly persons offenses.
"Any amount of scapegoating or any other bullying or vilification of communities, one community to another, is completely — it’s normally completely — not acceptable. It’s even more so today,” Murphy said. “There is a special place in hell for the very small minority that do that.”