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Murphy gives updates on NJ's response to coronavirus outbreak as cases, deaths continue to rise

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said they are looking for alternative care sites as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases surge, especially in the North. She said seven hospitals reported they were on divert status due to overcrowding and overall high census. – Photo by Wikimedia

During today’s press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced 3,649 new positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey with 91 additional deaths. This brings the statewide total to 22,255 cases with 355 deaths.

Murphy said three deaths have been removed from the total count, as they are now undergoing additional verification.

“We have lost at least 355 people of valor up and down our state, young and old, persons of all backgrounds, and we mourn. We mourn for each of them from afar, and even in mourning we have to continue practicing our social distancing,” he said. “As I said yesterday, we all have to remember to stay at home before this hits home.”

Murphy also said that New Jersey will receive an additional 350 ventilators from the strategic national stockpile. While this brings the state’s total to 850 additional ventilators, he said he will continue to speak to anyone who can answer his call for not only more ventilators, but also for more personal protective equipment and direct state aid.

When it comes to personal protective equipment, Murphy said New Jersey has obtained approximately 10 million pieces on its own. He said this equipment will be used to backfill exhausted supply chains in the state’s healthcare system.

“While these items come at a significant cost to the state — and by the way, significant as in tens of tens of millions of dollars — I have said definitively that there is no price too high to save a life, and there is no price too high to protect our healthcare workers and those on the frontlines of the battlefield we find ourselves on,” Murphy said.

Testing sites throughout the state and their operating status were also discussed. Of the two Federal Emergency Management Agency-partnered testing sites, only the site located at Bergen Community College will be open tomorrow. He also said more testing sites were made available yesterday, and residents can visit New Jersey’s COVID-19 website to find the nearest location.

The website also includes a section where New Jersey residents can take a self-test to assess their own symptoms, Murphy said.

“In a perfect world with full supplies coming from the feds, both of the stuff we need to collect specimens but also the personal protective equipment to protect the healthcare workers taking the specimens, we’d be testing everybody,” he said. “We have to play the hand that we have. We don’t have those supplies at the level we needed from day one from the federal side, so we have been testing and will continue to test symptomatic persons.”

Murphy also mentioned several new extensions being put in place. He said the date for income tax filings has been extended to July 15 and will be applied automatically. 

Through an agreement with New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly Craig Coughlin, Murphy also said the current state fiscal year deadline will be extended to Sept. 30. They will create a supplemental appropriations bill for government operations from July 1 to Sept. 30 and will then create a final package for the remainder of the fiscal next year, he said. 

Murphy said this is being done to not only ensure everyone is focused on meeting the current needs of the state and combating the COVID-19 health emergency, but also to ensure the state enacts a fiscally responsible budget.

In addition to this, he said an extension has been granted for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students will now have until June 1 to complete their FAFSA form.

A new executive order was issued during the press conference as well. Murphy said this order will provide more flexibility and protection for the state’s medical workers and healthcare system by removing bureaucratic interference. This will allow retired medical practitioners or those licensed in other countries to work in the state, as well as temporarily abandoning scope of practice requirements for advanced practice nurses and physician assistants.

During the discussion of the executive order, Murphy reiterated the state’s need for medical volunteers. He said anyone with prior medical experience is welcome and approximately 5,200 individuals have already volunteered. Individuals will be matched and contacted after submitting their information on the state’s COVID-19 website.

Assistance for small businesses affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 was also discussed. Murphy said the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program will open their application at 9 a.m. on Friday and is intended for small businesses that face a dire need for direct grant assistance.

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli spoke on critical care bed capacity due to the surge in cases they are now seeing. She said seven hospitals in the North reported last night they were on divert status.

“That was divert status for various reasons: some due to overcrowding in their emergency rooms and some due to overall high census,” Persichilli said.

She said two hospitals also reported a need for ventilators, which the Department of Health was able to fulfill. She said they are also looking at alternative care sites due to the high number of cases in the North, which will be led by Dr. Jeffrey Brenner and Kathleen Stillo from UnitedHealthcare.

New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan detailed four new incidents of individuals not following the current stay-at-home executive order. He said an individual operating an indoor soccer arena was charged after receiving multiple warnings for violating the executive orders. In another instance, 10 adults were charged for violating the order with two adults being charged with six counts of child neglect.

Another individual was charged last night for operating an in-person auction after he was warned and failed to comply, Callahan said. He also said the Newark Police Department has issued a total of 125 summonses and closed five businesses for noncompliance.

“We demand 100 percent compliance in every single community with the mandates we have put forward,” Murphy said. “I can’t say it enough, we are a family. We laugh together, we mourn together, we even disagree together, but right now — I’ve said it time and again — I think we are more together than we have been, in at least a long time, than ever before.”

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