Plus: Gov. Phil Murphy announced a deal with the Communication Workers of America that trades furloughs and deferred wage increases for layoffs, as the state works to improve its finances amid the pandemic.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 23, 2020
Another 382 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 169,734 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Tuesday.
Sadly, 57 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 12,949 lives lost during the pandemic.
That’s nearly double the number of New Jerseyans lost to the flu in the past five years combined, “and we’ve lost them all in a span of three months,” Murphy said.
Throughout New Jersey, 1,092 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms. Among those patients, 307 are in intensive or critical care, and 216 of ICU and critical-care patients (70 percent) are on ventilators.
Overnight, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 50 new COVID-19 patients, and 48 others were discharged, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
Rate of transmission (Rt) up steadily for two weeks and counting
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.96 percent June 20; in South Jersey, it’s almost double, at 3.74 percent.
Although that number continues to decline, officials are tracking a steady climb in Rt, or the estimated rate of transmission of new cases of the virus, which was 0.81 percent on June 21.
That figure indicates that every person infected with COVID-19 is infecting less than one other person, on average. However, it’s climbed continuously from a low of .62 recorded on June 9. Murphy noted its continued creep with a warning to newly opened restaurants and their patrons.
“If we see businesses refuse to comply with the commonsense and life-saving guidance we have put in place, we will have no choice but to begin making examples out of them,” he said.
“We can’t get our economy back to where it was if our hospitals fill back up with COVID-19 patients because some people mistakenly thought they were invincible,” the governor said.
“We cannot undo this progress; this progress is why we’ve been able to move through Stage Two.”
State and federally backed testing will continue in New Jersey at least through the end of August 2020; Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli both urged residents to be tested to continue helping to track the path of the virus.
Long-term care accounts for almost half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected
Across New Jersey, 556 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 36,000 infected patients and staff, or 21 percent of total cases.
That includes 23,823 residents and 12,177 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 6,248 lab-confirmed resident deaths (48 percent of the statewide total) and 117 facility-reported staff deaths.
Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 386 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Eight veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 234 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 211 of 1,238 patients and 497 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven staffers and 13 patients have died from complications related to the virus.
Fifteen patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 491 people in total.
To date, 44 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, Persichilli said, unchanged since yesterday.
All have tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection or the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus. Six children are still currently hospitalized. No deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.
Playgrounds, water parks, amusements reopen July 2; cases up among young adults
Outdoor amusements, including public playgrounds, boardwalk rides, and water parks, may reopen at 50-percent capacity July 2, with “face-coverings, heightened hygiene, [and] social distancing” among the many caveats in effect, Murphy said.
The governor credited such individual efforts as “what has allowed us to catch up to a virus that has no vaccine and no proven therapeutics,” and encouraged residents to maintain these practices.
“I know the last thing anyone wants is a face-covering tan,” Murphy said. “I know many people think that just because the weather is hot they can’t catch the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. And I know many young people think this virus isn’t after them.
“In every case, I hate to tell you, you’re wrong,” he said.
Persichilli echoed those remarks, noting a national and statewide trend in the uptick among COVID-19-positive young people.
“Florida, Texas, and South Carolina are seeing more individuals under the age of 30 testing positive,” the commissioner said.
“Many of these individuals have not had any symptoms, so they are unaware that they are contributing to the spread of this virus,” she said.
In New Jersey, COVID-19 positivity among those 18-29 nearly doubled from April to June, from 12 percent to 22 percent of all cases, Persichilli said. Some of that uptick is related to increased testing; however, officials are concerned about young people socializing publicly at crowded bars and restaurants, and then unwittingly spreading the virus throughout their communities.
“People of any age can get severe illness from COVID-19,” Persichilli said. “More than 640 [New Jersey] residents between the ages of 18 and 29 have been hospitalized because of complications from this virus, and there have been more than 50 deaths among this age group.
“This population can spread the virus to more vulnerable populations,” she said. “We need all residents to continue to take precautions, not only to protect themselves, but to protect all of us.”
NJ announces contract agreement with CWA
Murphy also said Tuesday that the state has reached an agreement in principle with the 30-union New Jersey chapter of the Communications Workers of America (AFL-CIO).
The CWA represents some 40,000 state workers, 15,000 county and municipal workers, and thousands more telecommunications and direct-care workers across 35 New Jersey unions.
The governor said terms of the deal include employee furloughs and deferred wage increases that had been previously negotiated.
Those changes come as an alternative to layoffs, he said.
“We cannot hide the impact this public health emergency is having on our state finances,” the governor said. Murphy again renewed his call for “both-and” federal cash aid and the ability to borrow more money “to keep people employed; to keep programs as strong and as full as they have been over the past couple of years.”
CWA NJ Director Hetty Rosenstein declined to comment on the terms of the deal, on which union members will vote this weekend.
However, a post on the group’s Facebook page described the agreement as deferring upcoming raises in July 2020, rescheduling raises promised for April 2022, and including furloughs, “most of which will be eligible for unemployment.”
“Deferring wage increases and having workers furloughed, even for a few days, is difficult,” the post read. “But in an environment such as this, we believe that we have accomplished something remarkable: Job protection for our members and their families.”
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or try our Direct Dispatch text alerts.