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NJ officials discuss new orders, provide updates as coronavirus continues to spread

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said he visited the temporary, stand-up field hospital at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus this morning. He said it will provide 250 additional hospital beds and should open early next week. – Photo by needpix

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) reported 3,489 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey with 182 additional deaths at today’s press conference. This brings the statewide total to 25,590 cases with 537 deaths.

In regard to the number of new deaths, Murphy said this does not necessarily mean 182 residents have died within the past 24 hours. He said there has been a lag when it comes to confirming the cause of death of these individuals.

“I know these numbers are stark. They are certainly sobering, they are shocking and they are indeed sad,” he said. “We can lower these numbers and we will. We could see fewer of our New Jersey members (die due to) COVID-19, and the way we do that is by aggressively and continuously practicing our social distancing, even under the most extreme of circumstances.”

When providing a breakdown of the new cases, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli gave an update on the state’s overall percentage of positivity. With 23,396 positive test results in approximately 56,915 tests given, she said New Jersey now has an overall positivity rate of 41.1 percent.

The Daily Targum previously reported that state officials, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, have identified three locations: Secaucus, Edison and Atlantic City, for the placement of temporary, stand-up field hospitals. Murphy said he had the opportunity to visit the site at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus this morning.

He said the site is currently set up to fit 250 hospital beds and should be ready for use on Monday. With the beds located at this site and the future sites in Edison and Atlantic City, Murphy said New Jersey’s bed capacity will be expanded by at least 1,000 in total.

Persichilli said the field hospital in Secaucus will take individuals from lower acuity from surrounding hospitals to provide them with more space to properly care for the critically ill.

“The field medical sites are being set up for non-COVID-19 patients, (but) the staff working at these sites will be prepared to care for individuals who may develop COVID-19 while at the field station,” Persichilli said.

Seven hospitals in the North reported they were in divert status on Tuesday due to overcrowding in their emergency rooms and overall high census, according to the Targum. During the press conference, Persichilli said only four hospitals reported they were on divert status last night. She said these hospitals are different than the ones from the night before.

“As hospitals are managing their volume, they are moving patients along appropriately,” she said. “As I’ve said, I expect this pressure on our human or healthcare resources to continue as we see the increasing number of cases in the state.”

Murphy also issued another executive order, which authorizes New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan to seize supplies from healthcare facilities that are not currently being operated. The possession of these supplies was reported to the state and includes items such as N95 masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment, he said.

“While we look forward to these facilities cooperating with us and providing this equipment as needed, this order gives (Callahan) the express authority to requisition it for distribution to our acute care hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and needless to say, they badly need the equipment,” Murphy said.

In addition to this equipment, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield will donate a total of 500,000 N95 masks and 81,000 face shields to New Jersey’s healthcare system, Murphy said. These supplies are worth more than $2.3 million and will be delivered throughout the month. 

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is also donating $100,000 to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and $60,000 to the Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May, which Murphy said was a reminder that not only our frontline responders need help during this time.

He reiterated that anyone can make donations of personal protective equipment by visiting New Jersey’s COVID-19 website.

The Targum previously reported there is a statewide blood shortage in New Jersey. Murphy announced an administrative order during the press conference that allows blood drives to continue operating in order to meet the critical medical needs of New Jersey residents. He said they will be required to take appropriate mitigation efforts, such as social distancing, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The need for blood is constant in our healthcare facilities, and the need right now is becoming increasingly urgent,” Persichilli said, according to the Targum. “Novel coronavirus is a new virus, but there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted by donating blood.”

Unemployment throughout the state was also discussed. Murphy said the Department of Labor reported more than 206,000 New Jersey residents filed for unemployment over the last week. He reminded residents that there is a job portal on the state’s COVID-19 where open essential job positions are listed.

In terms of education, Murphy said the Department of Education, NJTV and the New Jersey Education Association have collaborated to create NJTV Learning Live. He said this is a public television program featuring hour-long lessons taught by New Jersey educators for children in third through sixth grade.

Murphy also provided examples of new reports of individuals putting police and first responders at risk. He said six individuals have been criminally charged for assaulting law enforcement officers after spitting and coughing on them and claiming to have COVID-19.

"Let me be clear, we are taking a zero-tolerance policy against anyone who acts so stupidly and puts others or makes them fear for their health,” he said. “These are not slaps on the wrist either, by the way folks. If you engage in such reckless behavior, you’re going to face, at the very least, fines up to $10,000 and up to 18 months in jail.”

In addition to this, Callahan reported that there were six COVID-19 related incidents in the past day. In one of the incidents, he said 15 people were charged with violating executive orders and one was charged with disorderly conduct after holding a funeral in Lakewood with approximately 60 individuals in attendance.

In Edison, Callahan said an individual was under arrest for a controlled dangerous substance when he coughed on law enforcement and claimed he had COVID-19. He also said the Newark Police Department issued 130 separate violations and closed four non-compliant businesses.

In Morris County, Callahan said an individual spit and drooled on an officer and claimed she had COVID-19 when being pulled over for a traffic violation. He also said a social gathering was held in Moorestown where an individual was charged with violating executive orders. In the final incident, he said a tow-truck operator claimed to have COVID-19 and threatened to spit on the door handles of another individual's truck during a dispute.

“It goes from sort of the more benign, ‘Hello, you can’t have a gathering,’ all the way to this aggressive, awful behavior of spitting on people and threatening them,” Murphy said. “We’ve got to eradicate all of that. We need 100 percent compliance.”

New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer spoke more on childcare for essential workers throughout the state. She announced the launch of an emergency child care assistance program to support costs for essential employees regardless of their income. Essential employees must register with the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency in their county, she said.

In the end, Murphy reminded everyone of the need for them to do their part in combating the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing.

“The numbers are going to go up," he said. "This is going to be a really tough few weeks ahead of us, if not more than a few weeks. But if we stay together, we don’t turn on each other but we come closer together as we are doing, we will get through this stronger than before and we will win this war.”