Plus: NJ Transit unveils a 10-year strategic and 5-year capital plan, a ‘reimagined’ Motor Vehicle Commission, baseline testing in New Jersey’s congregate housing, and more protesting.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 8, 2020
Another 356 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 164,497 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
Sadly, 40 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 12,214 lives lost during the pandemic.
Throughout New Jersey, 1,740 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms, a fifth straight day of fewer than 2,000 hospitalized patients.
Of those 1,740 patients, 498 are in intensive or critical care; 361 of ICU and critical-care patients (74 percent) are on ventilators. Fewer than 500 people in intensive and critical care and fewer than 400 ventilator patients are both milestones in the state recovery.
Overnight, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 94 new COVID-19 patients and discharged 112 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 3.6 percent June 4, from about 20,000 recorded samples; in South Jersey, it’s higher, at 5.8 percent.
“What all these numbers tell us is the spread of COVID-19 continues to slow,” Murphy said. “That is, again, why I urge everyone who took part in a march or a peaceful protest this weekend to get tested.
“We have the testing capacity,” the governor said. “Let’s make sure these numbers stay moving in the right direction.”
Across New Jersey, 549 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 34,578 infected patients and staff, or 21 percent of total cases.
That includes 23,097 residents and 11,481 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 5,542 lab-confirmed resident deaths (44 percent of the statewide total) and 109 facility-reported staff deaths.
Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 385 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 145 have died from complications related to the virus. Five veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 212 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 211 of 1,236 patients and 490 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven staffers and 13 patients have died from complications related to the virus; unchanged since last week.
Twelve patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 474 people in total.
To date, 39 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
All have tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection or the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus. Six are still currently hospitalized. No deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.
In all, the state has seen just 49 COVID-19-related deaths of people younger than 30, Persichilli said. Nearly 80 percent of fatalities are among those 65 and older.
Guidance for community pools and summer camps
Community pools throughout New Jersey will be allowed to reopen starting June 22, and summer camps will be able to use their pools when they reopen on July 6, Murphy said Monday.
Specific guidelines for pools were not immediately available at the time of the briefing, but Perschilli offered an outline of expectations at summer camps, which included mask-wearing, hand-washing, sanitization, and social distancing.
Campers are to be sequestered in groups of the same children and counselors daily, with staggered pick up and drop off times, and wellness and fever checks upon arrival.
Cloth face coverings are to be used when social distancing cannot be maintained, except when swimming, in extreme heat, or in the event of a prohibitive medical condition.
No communal dining, full-contact sports, overnight, or residential camps will be permitted, and all youth day camps are required to submit an attestation form to the state Department of Health that they will comply with the regulations.
NJ Transit unveils 10-year strategic plan
During Murphy’s briefing, NJ Transit unveiled “NJT 2030,” a 10-year strategic plan for the statewide mass transit agency, as well as a five-year capital plan.
When outlining his statewide restart and recovery plan, the governor had emphasized the importance of reopening childcare and mass transit in support of private industry, and he again touched on those points Monday.
“As critical as NJ Transit has been to countless essential workers to and from their jobs and our front lines, NJ Transit is going to be even more a part of our restart as New Jerseyans begin to get back to work,” Murphy said.
“New Jersey’s road back also rides along NJ Transit’s trains, buses, and light rail,” he said.
Condemning “a decade-long period of disinvestment” in the system, the governor said that NJT 2030 would help transform the agency’s core business “to better serve customers and communities” throughout the state.
Specific to the pandemic response, NJ Transit capital investments could include contactless fare payments and redesigned station interiors and vehicles so they space passengers apart and are more easily cleaned.
Thirteen NJ Transit employees have died from COVID-19-related complications, and 542 have been sickened by the virus, said CEO Kevin Corbett.
Murphy also said the agency would not increase fares for another year and is “hoping to hold off for longer.”
Reinventing the NJ motor vehicle commission
Monday’s NJ Transit announcement comes on the heels of Friday’s plan for a reinvented Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), which will reopen to the public June 15.
Behind-the-wheel road tests and the issuance of new licenses and permits will begin June 29.
“Sue and her team have had to reimagine the entire MVC experience,” Murphy said. “Social distancing will be the norm, and the team will be required to wear facemasks.”
MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said Friday that while the commission “used to mean a lot of people crowded into small spaces, we can’t operate like that in a COVID-19 world.”
During the three months the agency has been closed to in-person business, customers renewed or replaced about 500,000 registrations and about 250,000 licenses online, Fulton said. Its 2,783 employees serve some 6 million customers annually.
When its doors are reopened, some agencies will be designated exclusively as licensing centers for things like ID transactions and driver testing, and others will serve as vehicle centers for registration, title, and license plate needs. With additional staff on hand, the agency should be able to clear 16,300 road tests per week.
On June 15, drop-off and pick-up transactions only will be allowed; no walk-in customers. A hybrid mail-in-and-online procedure will be employed to help residents complete vehicle registrations and title transfers “on an emergent basis,” Fulton said.
She urged residents to be patient as the state clears its three-month backlog of bulk transactions to accommodate walk-in customers and schedule appointments for road tests and REAL IDs. Vehicle inspections are performed by a third-party contractor, Fulton said.
Health officials have continued to test New Jersey residents in long-term care settings for COVID-19, including nursing homes, veterans homes, psych hospitals, and correctional facilities.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the state has issued 120,000 test kits to such facilities, and 632 of 678 have reported their baseline testing data, Persichilli said Friday.
Of some 44,000 residents, 10 percent tested positive for the virus, as did 4 percent of 65,000 staffers tested.
In the state veterans hospitals, 5,400 residents and staff have been tested, with 11 percent positive. Nearly 20 percent of those tested in New Jersey’s federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) tested positive, including homeless citizens.
Of 1,500 seasonal farm workers tested, 11 percent were positive, and universal baseline testing completed among 28,500 staff and inmates in the state correctional facility returned 11 percent positive results.
Universal baseline testing of 1,229 psychiatric patients returned slightly higher numbers, at a 17-percent positivity rate, and universal testing of staff is still underway, Persichilli said.
Protesting and COVID-19
New Jersey hosted some 130 protests related to police brutality over the weekend, said State Police Col. Patrick Callahan.
As the governor attended Black Lives Matter marches in Hillside and Westfield, he was rebuked by state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) for “openly and brazenly def[ying] Executive Order 148 by purposely, repeatedly, and wantonly associating with others in groups greater than 25 individuals, and aiding and abetting such behavior.”
When asked what made his demonstrations different from those for which other residents were cited for violations of his own executive order, Murphy said most anti-quarantine protest citations were issued only to organizers of those events. Callahan said decisions to issue summonses for such violations are at the discretion of local authorities.
The governor also added that most demonstrators were either masked or given a mask at the events he attended.
“This is a moment in our time perhaps unlike any other in our nation’s history,” Murphy said. “I can’t imagine what it would look like if we said to people, ‘You have to ignore systemic racism.’ I can’t imagine what that looks like as it relates to public safety.”
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