New Jersey could still see another 15-percent budget cut statewide to get through the fall of 2020, amid sharply increased costs for emergency services personnel, schools, and transportation.
By Matt Skoufalos | July 22, 2020
Another 390 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 177,645 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
The state data systems remain hampered by an unspecified reporting error that officials believe may be artificially lowering the number of reported cases and affecting the statewide viral rate of transmission (Rt) numbers.
Sadly, 24 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 13,787 lives lost during the pandemic.
Not included in the death report, which dates back to July 19, are five more that deaths have occurred in the past 24 hours, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state also recognized another 1,920 probable COVID-19-related deaths, revised down by 54 deaths from a prior estimate of 1,974.
Throughout New Jersey, 873 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 423 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 450 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Among those hospitalized patients, 151 are in intensive or critical care, and 77 of ICU and critical-care patients (50 percent) are on ventilators.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.90 amid reporting errors, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 2.48 percent July 18; in South Jersey, it’s slightly higher, at 2.61 percent.
Issues with laboratory data hampered Rt reports of new COVID-19 cases; the figure was last calculated at 0.90 on Monday. When new data are available for the July 18 to 21 window, that figure will be updated, Murphy said.
Any Rt figure of less than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting less than one other person, on average, which means the virus is contracting; any figure of more than 1.0 means it’s spreading.
The lowest recorded Rt since the mid-April COVID-19 spike in New Jersey was 0.62, recorded June 9. Last week, it spiked at 1.11.
Long-term care accounts for half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected
Across New Jersey, 581 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 37,278 infected patients and staff, or 21 percent of total cases.
That includes 24,580 residents and 12,698 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 6,852 lab-confirmed resident deaths (50 percent of the statewide total) and 118 facility-reported staff deaths.
Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 388 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Six veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 240 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 426 of 2,474 patients and 1,018 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen staffers and 26 patients have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 55 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, Persichilli said; two new cases this week.
All have tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection or the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus. Two children are still currently hospitalized. No deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.
Murphy on U.S. Senate’s refusal for more state aid: ‘a slap in the face’
The governor opened Wednesday’s briefing, the 98th since the pandemic began, with another call for flexible federal aid, and a strong rebuke of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) for his apparent refusal to offer it in the latest proposed round of relief packages.
“This is a slap in the face of every governor across the country, Republican and Democrat, who has shouldered the responsibility of responding to this pandemic,” Murphy said.
“Even with the hard-fought flexibility from the $2.1 billion we received from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund… there would be zero flexibility with any new funding to come,” he said.
The pandemic has plunged New Jersey into “a historic fiscal crisis the likes of which has happened only twice in our state’s 244-year history, the Civil War and the Great Depression,” Murphy said, and could leave the state with a $9.9-billion budget hole to plug by June 2021.
“We have slashed planned spending to enact an austere, stopgap budget, and we dipped into the rainy day fund just to get us through the next two months,” the governor said.
New Jersey is facing another 15-percent budget cut statewide to get through the fall of 2020, amid sharply increased costs for emergency services personnel, schools, and transportation. That would include a possible billion-dollar cut in public school aid, with colleges and universities, which have lost more than $200 million in funding, next on the chopping block.
The governor also pointed out that more than 120,000 New Jerseyans have lost their employment-driven health insurance in the past five months. Without federal aid to offset the rising costs of Medicaid, “it would be beyond cruel to see them cut out” of relief for their healthcare and unemployment needs.
Progress on long-term care needs
The New Jersey Department of Health is making progress on the deficiencies in its long-term care (LTC) facilities identified in a June 3 report from the Manatt consultancy.
Perischilli said it’s cleared 17 of 35 recommendations in the Manatt report, beginning with implementing infection control surveys at 449 facilities statewide, including:
- 369 nursing homes
- 46 assisted living centers
- 6 dementia care homes
- 2 specialty hospitals
- 17 end-stage renal dialysis centers
- 5 ambulatory surgery centers
- 4 acute care hospitals
A backlog of more than 4,000 complaints with its facilities dating back to 2017 has been reduced to 325 nursing home complaints and 70 LTC complaints, Persichilli said.
Chief among the recommendations in the report was creation of a long-term care Emergency Operations Center (EOC) from which to manage future concerns in those sites.
Those include handling of the upcoming flu season, procurement and allocation of personal protective equipment (PPE), coordination with the state Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and managing LTC staffing shortages. The EOC planning committee met for the first time last week, Persichilli said.
To date, 232,000 LTC resident COVID-19 tests and 367,000 staff tests have been conducted in New Jersey, and the positivity rate for each has been reduced from 6 and 3 percent, respectively, in May 2020 to less than 1 percent for each in July 2020.
Persichilli said the state would continue attempting to test some 90,000 LTC employees weekly. The state still has “active outbreaks—new positive cases—in more than 360 facilities,” she said.
Testing turnaround times remain a national and state issue, ranging from 3.2 to 7.7 days in New Jersey, on average, the commissioner said, but in some places, results are taking longer to be returned.
“If the report’s not coming back in 10 to 14 days, that’s the quarantine period,” she said. “We are looking aggressively at the use of point-of-care testing, and how we can use that effectively… particularly in those communities that have very low positivity rates.”
Murphy quashes daughter’s wedding conspiracy
Finally, during a discussion about quarantining out-of-state travelers, Murphy offered a sharp rebuke to “all you bozos out there” who’ve fanned rumors that his 20-year-old daughter, Emmannuelle, a University of Virginia student, has a wedding in the works.
“Because there’s insanity on social media sometimes… that’s my daughter, who did not have a bachelorette party, is not engaged, and is not getting married this weekend, just for the record,” Murphy said.
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