Plus: 139,000 residents could qualify for unemployment benefits soon, more supports for long-term care sites, and parents should watch out for symptoms of rare, pediatric illness that’s cropped up in nine counties.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 14, 2020
Another 1,216 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 142,704 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Thursday.
Sadly, 244 more residents perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 9,946 lives lost during the pandemic.
COVID-19 cases are doubling at least every 30 days throughout most of New Jersey, including Camden County.
Throughout New Jersey, 3,958 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms. Of those 3,958 patients, 1,157 are in intensive or critical care, and 898 (76 percent) are on ventilators.
In the past 24 hours, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 171 new COVID-19 patients and discharged 366 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
Across New Jersey, 525 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 27,153 infected people statewide (19 percent of total cases) and 5,168 deaths (51 percent).
Of 662 veterans residing in a state-run home, 366 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 137 have died from complications related to the virus. At state-run psychiatric facilities, 194 of 1,240 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and 13 people have died from complications related to the virus.
Thirty-five patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 436 people in total.
Jersey shores, lakes to reopen by Memorial Day weekend with controls in place
Citing dramatic improvements in the major statewide COVID-19 metrics in the past few weeks, Murphy announced Thursday that New Jersey’s beach and lake communities will reopen for visitors by Memorial Day weekend— Friday, May 22—with a number of restrictions in place.
“The Jersey Shore, after all, is where memories are made, the governor said. “The last thing that any of us wanted was for a summertime down the shore to be a memory.”
Among the changes: communities will limit parking volumes, visitors are expected to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and face coverings are recommended, especially when social distancing is difficult to maintain.
Family groups, household members, caretakers, and couples are not expected to adhere to distancing guidelines among one another, but they should keep at least six feet from others as a group.
Changing areas and restrooms will be open at beaches and in state parks, Murphy said, “with frequent and proper cleaning.” Rides, arcades, and boardwalk games will remain closed, and concerts or beach sports are prohibited “for the time being,” he said.
“This is not a life sentence here,” Murphy said. “We could have a dramatically different reality a month from now.”
Reopening public recreational areas is “a big step,” but one New Jersey can take together, Murphy said, in recognition of rapidly improving public health numbers as the state continues its general downward trend in new hospitalizations, critical and intensive care reliance, and ventilator usage.
“We have confidence that residents and out-of-state visitors alike can take in a day at the beach,” the governor said.
In addition, officials are “aggressively reviewing” protocols for other summer activities, including community pools and charter fishing, Murphy said.
“This is something that we’re all going to hold hands and do together, recognizing that we know people are dying to let steam off, and we’re going to have a big burden of responsibility to get that as right as we can,” he said.
The governor promised that “if people are noncompliant” with public health orders, “they will be dealt with,” by local law enforcement.
Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio joined the briefing Thursday to emphasize the need for beachgoers and shore residents to work collectively toward the shared goal of limiting COVID-19-related risks during recreation.
“When we have a storm coming, and as bad as a storm is, we generally know how to prepare,” Desiderio said.
“With this, we didn’t know what was coming, how it was coming.”
The communities of Ocean City, Strathmere, and Sea Isle City “will do a dry run this weekend,” Desiderio said, reopening May 15 in advance of the heavier traffic anticipated May 22.
Police will be out in force, he said, lifeguards will watch the ocean, and “goodwill ambassadors” will hand out public information about expected behaviors, which starts with mutual respect among the community.
“We’re not looking for any problems,” Desiderio said. “We’re not looking to arrest anyone; we’re not looking to have anyone removed from the beach. Most of the people going to the beach know where we were, where we are now, and what we have to do.”
Retail shops and restaurants will operate with familiar limitations: takeout and delivery, online ordering, and curbside pickup, as businesses begin to roll back restrictions next Monday in accordance with recently revised guidance.
“We’re all learning something new, and we’re all doing things in a different manner to keep going,” Desiderio said. “This is a first step. It’s not perfect, but it will work.”
NJDOL to certify 139,000 newly eligible claimants for assistance
New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo offered an update on benefit payouts to those workers sidelined by the pandemic, including some insights into common hang-ups within the state system and the scope of addressing them.
More New Jerseyans have been certified for unemployment assistance than the populations of five U.S. states (Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, and North and South Dakota), and $2.7 billion in benefits have been paid out thus far, Asaro-Angelo said.
The department is trying to clear the claims of another 139,000 self-employed contractors and gig workers this weekend, as well as 60,000 claims that are eligible for a third batch of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), he said.
But at least 82,000 claims have been held up for providing disqualifying answers to federally required benefits certification questions, which is not a “glitch in the system,” Asaro-Angelo said.
“We’re going to address certification questions, but that does not take away the importance of somebody answering certification questions the right way,” he said.
“If someone answers a question in a certain way, they’re no longer eligible for benefits.”
The commissioner urged residents certifying for benefits to carefully review the state’s provided answer guide for the questions. He also described how the kinks in New Jersey’s antiquated benefits system are compounded by necessary interactions with the benefits systems of other states, which are all built on different back-end platforms that must store individual work histories for decades.
“The back-of-the-house architecture has got to be a federal solution in the end,” Asaro-Angelo said. “We’ve never heard anybody in Congress… talk about unemployment data systems.
“Hopefully this will generate a federal response,” he said. “We’re all on 50-plus operating systems and different ways to apply.”
Many “outside-the-box solutions we’ve been exploring… cannot be enacted without putting our entire unemployment system at risk,” Asaro-Angelo said.
Moreover, the commissioner said it’s not as simple as onboarding new staff to quickly manage the extra work. Agents must be trained in handling sensitive information, federal law, and must pass a state police background check before they can be employed in the unemployment office.
Nursing home, pediatric health concerns
Five long-term care sites throughout the state will receive additional support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as they work to clean up facilities ravaged by the pandemic, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
VA teams will include clinical staff, nurses, and certified nursing assistants, who will provide additional staffing, implement infection controls, and help residents with daily living activities, Persichilli said.
They will supplement 100 local VA personnel who’ve already been deployed alongside 300 New Jersey National Guardsmen and women.
“It’s an overwhelming tragedy and it’s not unique to our state,” Murphy said, citing the ongoing review of the statewide long-term care system by recently hired consultants and the state attorney general’s investigation, announced last week.
“The uneven performance of this [LTC] industry is jaw-dropping, and that’s as charitable as I can get,” the governor said. “We can’t get there by ourselves,” he said.
“The resiliency of the long-term care industry is thin,” Persichilli said. “They work at the margin, we know that. Did they have adequate PPE? They did not, and neither did anyone else, in New Jersey or in the United States.
“The tragedy of long-term care will haunt us for a long time, but we will definitely put things in place that will prevent that from happening again,” Persichilli said.
The health commissioner also cautioned parents to be vigilant for the warning signs of pediatric, multi-system, inflammatory syndrome, also known as Kawasaki Syndrome.
The state health department is investigating 17 possible reports of this condition in nine counties of children aged 2 to 18. The condition is rare, but treatable, Persichilli said, and early recognition is critical to securing a better outcome.
The health commissioner urged parents to look out for symptoms including: irritability, sluggishness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, pink eye, swollen lymph nodes, cracked lips and tongue, swollen hands and feet.
“Call your doctor so your baby can be evaluated and treated,” Persichilli said.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or try our Direct Dispatch text alerts.