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NJ officials provide coronavirus updates as number of deaths surpasses 1,000

If New Jerseyans continue their current social distancing practices, the healthcare system is projected to be able to successfully treat COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization without becoming overwhelmed, according to Department of Health predictions presented by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.).  – Photo by Pixabay

At a press conference today, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced 3,663 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and 86 additional deaths, bringing New Jersey’s total to 41,090 cases and 1,003 deaths.

“We cannot give in to fear or sadness, and we must resolve to continue our fight together to crack the back of this crisis and flatten the curve so we have fewer and fewer lives lost,” Murphy said.

Murphy said models developed with the Department of Health show the state’s social distancing policies have begun to slow the spread of the virus. He said the growth rate in new cases has declined from approximately 24 percent daily on March 30 to approximately 12 percent as of today.

“The overall curve that we fit into the data is beginning — and I say beginning, and I use that word cautiously — beginning to flatten,” he said. “Our job now is to keep flattening it to the point where our day-over-day increase is not just 12 percent, but is zero.”

Murphy also showed models regarding hospitalizations. If New Jerseyans continue their current social distancing practices, the healthcare system is projected to be able to successfully treat COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization without becoming overwhelmed, he said. He said this is in part due to statewide efforts to expand hospital capacities.

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said between the new field hospitals, the reopening of closed hospitals and hospital wings, as well as the use of empty long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers and hotels, the state will be able to add more than 26,000 care spaces.

The state’s COVID-19 symptom self-assessment test has also helped officials prepare accordingly because it provides insight as to which counties have more people reporting symptoms, Murphy said.

The outbreak is expected to reach its peak at some point between April 10 and April 28, according to the model.

Murphy also announced he is signing an executive order to allow public employees to return to work and help the COVID-19 response effort without impacting their pension status. Examples of public employees include retired law enforcement officers, nurses or Department of Labor workers to help respond to unemployment claims, he said.

The state is continuing to collect personal protective equipment donations and has been in contact with other countries with equipment, Murphy said. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it will continue to assist New Jersey officials in operating the testing sites at Bergen Community College and PNC Bank Arts Center until the end of May.

Murphy also spoke with President Donald J. Trump, who agreed to allow patients from New Jersey to take up hospital beds on the USNS Comfort, a Navy medical ship currently docked in New York City to help relieve pressure on hospitals there.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) appeared alongside Murphy to give additional information on federal relief efforts. He said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded unemployment benefits to more people, including gig economy workers and self-employed individuals who are eligible for these benefits.

Additionally, the benefits are retroactive and will cover weeks of unemployment that began on or after Jan. 27, Booker said.

He also said 80% of New Jersey families qualify for direct cash payments provided by the CARES Act and will likely be directly deposited beginning next week. Those who filed tax returns or receive social security benefits do not have to take any additional action to receive the payments.

Booker said the CARES Act also provides assistance for small businesses or nonprofits with less than 500 employees to help ensure the employees receive paychecks.

The federal government is already discussing an additional COVID-19 relief bill and Booker said he hopes to secure more resources for municipalities and local governments, more direct payments for residents as well as expand healthcare access for uninsured Americans by reopening the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act.

Booker said Trump already dismissed the idea of opening a special enrollment period.

“My question for the president is: If you are not going to open up health insurance enrollment during a healthcare crisis that has killed close to 10,000 Americans, including more than 1,000 New Jerseyans, then what are you waiting for?” Booker said.

New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan also spoke about compliance issues over the past weekend regarding Murphy’s stay-at-home order. He said a man in Rumson, New Jersey, held a large concert on his porch and a woman in Hillside, New Jersey, faced charges for hosting more than 20 people in her home.

In Newark, 66 summonses were issued and 12 non-essential business were forced to shut down after operating illegally 

Additionally, three people are being arrested for separate charges in Hamilton, Woolwich and Kearney, who spit and coughed on officers and claimed they had COVID-19. 

Murphy said the vast majority of New Jerseyans are following social distancing procedures, but those who violate his executive orders are putting others at risk and will continue to be held accountable.

"As usual, there's a vast minority who are ruining it for the rest of us, so to all the jackasses out there and all the knuckleheads out there: Get with the program," Murphy said. "We will not relent until we have 100 percent compliance."

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