Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) held a press conference today to announce 3,088 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and 275 new deaths, bringing New Jersey’s total to 47,437 cases and 1,504 deaths.
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said three deaths were removed from the total because the individuals were actually from another state.
Murphy said although the rate of case increases has been reduced, the fact that cases and deaths are increasing at all means people need to continue social distancing.
“We’re not at any plateau, and you’re going to see based on some decisions we’re taking today, we need to continue to be absolutely vigilant and if anything, tighten, as opposed to loosen (social distancing policies),” Murphy said.
Murphy said today’s three executive orders all pertain to social distancing. He said the 2020 New Jersey primary election, which was scheduled for June 2, will now be held on July 7. He said delaying the primary increases the likelihood of being able to safely vote in person, but also gives officials enough time to prepare a statewide vote by mail system if necessary.
“Our democracy cannot be a casualty of COVID-19,” Murphy said. “We want to ensure that every voter can vote without endangering their health or their safety.”
The second executive order gives further guidelines for businesses which are deemed essential and can operate. In his original “stay-at-home” order, Murphy declared construction workers would be able to continue working, The Daily Targum previously reported.
This new order states some construction projects are deemed non-essential and will be required to cease by Friday at 8 p.m. Essential construction projects include work on hospitals, schools, affordable housing, transportation, emergency repairs and certain housing projects that do not require a large number of workers, Murphy said.
This executive order also gives new guidelines for essential retail businesses, such as grocery stores. He said employees and shoppers will now be required to wear face coverings and stores must reduce their maximum capacity by 50 percent. Stores will also have to install physical barriers between cashiers and customers and provide specific time slots for shoppers at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Ensuring social distancing may require you to change the times you go to the store, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure the health of your community,” Murphy said.
Additionally, the executive order provides stronger protections for factory and warehouse workers to ensure workers are able to socially distance, he said.
The third executive order raises the weight limit for trucks on highways from 40 tons to 46 tons, which Murphy said will allow them to carry more supplies related to COVID-19 relief.
Murphy gave updates on hospital efforts. He toured the medical field station in Edison, New Jersey, this morning, which he said could potentially open on Saturday. Murphy said these medical field stations are still looking for chief nursing officers, chief medical officers, physicians and respiratory therapists to help operate them.
Persichilli said the field medical stations will take patients recovering from operations, those who need intravenous antibiotics or fluids, individuals in need of exams for minor things such as non-healing wounds, among other things. Patients in the field hospitals will likely stay for less than a week and will not include those requiring critical care, pediatric patients or pregnant patients, she said.
Although the field hospitals are designated for patients without COVID-19, Persichilli said this could change depending on what resources the state has.
The state is also developing a plan to address the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, Persichilli said. The Targum previously reported these facilities were required to separate COVID-19 patients from healthy ones and issued guidance for how workers can protect themselves.
Persichilli said the state is surveying how effectively these facilities are able to separate patients, how much personal protective equipment each facility has, the current health status of employees as well as patients, among other things. She said facilities unable to follow guidelines issued by the Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have patients transferred elsewhere.
Murphy and Persichilli also addressed the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 deaths for people of color. Sixty-one percent of victims were white, 22 percent were Black and six percent were Asian, Persichilli said, with 11 percent of the deaths still undergoing evaluation.
Murphy said despite making up approximately 22 percent of COVID-19 deaths, Black New Jerseyans only make up approximately 15 percent of the population.
“We can’t draw complete conclusions yet with so many cases still under review, but New Jersey looks like it is in a similar reality as we had feared that communities of color are, sadly, more disproportionately represented in the fatalities than the community at large,” Murphy said.
He said this issue stems from the lack of resources in communities of color prior to the COVID-19 crisis but did not say whether any specific measures will be taken to reduce the disproportionate effects of the virus.
Murphy acknowledged the challenges of social distancing for such a long period of time, especially with Passover beginning tonight, Easter next week and Ramadan later this month. He asked New Jerseyans to continue following the guidelines implemented so far despite how difficult it may seem during the holiday season.
“This is not specific to Passover, but it certainly includes Passover, it will include Easter, it will include Ramadan, it will include every minute of every day,” Murphy said. “We have got to stay home and stay away from each other … that is the only way out of this. We have got to stay home.”