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Murphy appoints representatives for regional advisory board, provides update on school closures

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced today all schools in New Jersey will remain closed until at least May 15, a decision that was made in collaboration with New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, among others. – Photo by Rich Hundley / The Trentonian

During today’s press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) reported 4,391 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey with an additional 362 deaths. This brings the statewide total to 75,317 cases and 3,518 deaths.

He said 8,224 were hospitalized as of 10 p.m. last night, with 1,645 ventilators in use. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, 802 residents were discharged from the hospital.

“All of a sudden social distancing doesn’t seem so much of an inconvenience if it means that we don’t have to keep mourning so many blessed souls,” he said. “It remains the key to us flattening the curve and eventually coming down the other side of it, to the point where we can responsibly begin the process of reopening our state.”

Murphy reiterated that while the spread of COVID-19 is beginning to slow throughout the state, residents need to continue following the executive stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines to ensure the spread does not begin to increase once again.

“This is our challenge together. Our goals are twofold: to flatten the curve and bend it back down,” he said. “We cannot have a spike. That would be potentially disastrous for our healthcare system and its workers, and it would mean countless more deaths.”

The status of school closures in New Jersey was also discussed. Murphy announced all New Jersey schools will remain closed until at least May 15. He said this decision was made with the help of New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, among others.

“Let me be perfectly clear, there’s nobody who wants to open the schools more than I do,” he said. “We cannot be guided by emotion. We need to be guided by where the facts on the ground, science and public health, take us. That means it won’t be safe to reopen our schools or start sports back up for at least another four weeks.”

Murphy also addressed concerns over the report of the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II in Sussex County where a COVID-19 outbreak was present. Police found 17 bodies piled up in a morgue intended to hold four individuals at most, according to The New York Times.

“I am also outraged that bodies of the dead were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue at the facility,” he said. “New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity. We can and must do better.”

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal will look into this situation, as well as review all long-term care facilities in New Jersey that have experienced a disproportionate number of deaths amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy said.

The Daily Targum previously reported the formation of a regional advisory board to coordinate mitigation efforts and guide the reopening of the region at the end of the public health emergency. Murphy said each state involved would appoint a public health professional, an economic professional and the Chiefs of Staff for the state’s governor.

During the press conference, Murphy announced the individuals who would be representing the state of New Jersey on the board. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of the United States Homeland Security, will serve as the public health and economic professionals for the state. 

“We are blessed to have two folks like this in New Jersey to begin with, already in positions of authority in both the foundation and philanthropic world, as well as the private sector,” he said. “We’re further blessed by their willingness to step up and serve.”

In addition to this, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Financing Authority has voted unanimously to suspend all rent increases at 36,000 eligible properties within its portfolio, Murphy said. This action will benefit low to moderate-income families who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the state.

Updates on unemployment claims were also discussed. Murphy said the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) announced the number of new claims over the past week has decreased by approximately one-third from the week before. This comes after the NJDOL implemented new measures to its system to better handle the number of outstanding claims, including the distribution of laptops for more NJDOL employees to work from home and increasing the capacity of its call centers, the Targum reported.

Murphy reminded residents of the job portal available on New Jersey’s COVID-19 website, where individuals can find listings for essential job openings. He also reiterated that any individuals who voluntarily left their job or refuse to work at their currently available job will not be eligible to receive unemployment.

Persichilli discussed the impact of social distancing on mental health as well. She reminded residents of the New Jersey Mental Health Cares hotline, launched by the Department of Human Services. In partnership with the Department of Human Services, St. Joseph’s Health in Patterson has also developed a support hotline for residents who are hearing-impaired, she said.

New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan provided updates on residents being noncompliant with the current stay-at-home orders, including incidents where individuals coughed on officers and claimed to have COVID-19.

“To the members of the knuckle-head hall of shame: It’s just beyond comprehension why people would do that, but they apparently continue to do that,” Murphy said. “It’s one thing to not have a face covering, although that’s inexcusable, but it's another thing to proactively and aggressively infect someone else, which is completely unacceptable.”

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