Coronavirus Update: 184,061 Infections, 14,007 Related Deaths; $25M in Grants for Small Landlords

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The funds will support landlords in three-to-10-unit properties, allowing them to cover unpaid rent from April to July as long as they forgive missed payments and fees from COVID-19-affected tenants.

By Katrina Janco | August 9, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 8-7-20. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 384 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 184,061 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.

Sadly, 12 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,007 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state also recognizes another 1,853 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Throughout New Jersey, 551 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 298 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 253 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.

Among those hospitalized patients, 120 are in intensive or critical care, and 73 of ICU and critical-care patients (61 percent) are on ventilators.

Murphy described the increase in the percentage of those critical-care patients on ventilators as “a reminder that we’re not out of the woods.”

Rate of transmission (Rt) declines to 1.15, spot positivity decreases in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.95 percent August 3; in South Jersey, it’s at 2.82 percent, highest in the state.

Rt, the variable that describes the rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, declined from 1.32 on August 3 to 1.15 from samples taken August 5.

An Rt figure of more than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting more than one other person, on average, which means the virus is spreading.

Murphy noted that it was the sixth day in a row that the state has had a lower Rt. “It’s still not where we need it to be, but that’s a good sign,” Murphy said.

The lowest recorded Rt since the mid-April COVID-19 spike in New Jersey was 0.62, recorded June 9.

Long-term care accounts for half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected

Across New Jersey, 617 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 37,562 infected patients and staff, or 20 percent of total cases.

That includes 24,598 residents and 12,964 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 6,956 lab-confirmed resident deaths (50 percent of the statewide total) and 120 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 242 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 213 of 1,221 patients and 509 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and seven staffers 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, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said; no 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. No children are currently hospitalized.

New Jersey has allocated $25 million in CARES Act relief to small landlords affected by the pandemic. Credit: NJ Pen.

$25M in CARES Act money to fund NJ Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program

The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) will dedicate $25 million in federal CARES Act funds to support residential landlords whose revenues have been affected by the pandemic.

The Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program will assist small residential landlords whose tenants may have missed payments from April to July 2020.

Property owners who receive funds from the program “must then pass along the benefits to their tenants by forgiving outstanding back rent and late fees accumulated during this same period,” Murphy said.

“Through this assistance, we can help directly support COVID-impacted renters by having outstanding back rent forgiven, whether in part or in full, and reducing the risk for evictions once the statewide moratorium expires,” Murphy said, noting that no one may be evicted from their residence for nonpayment of rent until two months after the public health emergency concludes.

The state legislature is also working on a bill that would give renters and mortgage borrowers flexible repayment options to catch up with back payments owed as a result of the pandemic, the governor said.

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver said that smaller property owners frequently cannot access the capital and federal resources to which larger borrowers have access, and often also are ineligible for federal housing assistance and mortgage forbearance programs.

For that reason, one-third of the funds in the program is reserved for landlords registered with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs as individual or family owners, Oliver said.

New Jersey Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver – COVID-19 Briefing 8-7-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

“Many of these smaller buildings aren’t just personal investments for their owners,” Murphy added.

“They’re also investments in neighborhoods and communities.

“Ensuring that responsible landlords are able to protect these investments and provide quality housing is of great importance,” the governor said.

Grants are available to landlords renting properties of three to ten residential units, and who are charging low and moderate rents as defined by levels established in the federal low-income housing tax credit program.

Approximately one of three New Jersey renters live in three-to-ten-unit buildings, and one in three low-to-moderate-income renters live in buildings with three to five units, Oliver said.

“We understand that helping all families have access to safe and affordable housing is foundational to healthy, safe, and thriving neighborhoods,” Oliver said.

NJHMFA will not expect grants to be repaid unless the agency determines that any disbursement was based upon false information. Tenants can know if their landlords are participating in the program by visiting the agency website.

“A landlord just cannot fill out his name and his address and say, ‘Well, my tenants haven’t paid me,’” Oliver said. “There’s going to have to be proof of that, and in some instances, we will affirm that with the tenant to make sure that there’s no comeback.”

The application portal opens from 9 a.m. Wednesday, August 19, through 1 p.m. Wednesday, August 26.

NJ COVID-19 contact tracing dashboard. Credit: NJDOH.

New contact tracing dashboard feature

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) COVID-19 dashboard will now offer weekly updates about statewide contact tracing efforts down to the county level.

Of the 1,344 tracers currently working in New Jersey, 995 are public health employees of local health departments.

The other 349 operate within the community contact tracing corps established through the Rutgers School of Public Health.

New Jersey is averaging 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents statewide, and will boost those numbers until every county has at least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents. Once that threshold is reached, Murphy said New Jersey will ramp up to 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, hopefully by the fall.

According to the dashboard, contact tracers have successfully reached 63 percent of those they called, notifying nearly half of all contacts about their exposure to the virus within 24 hours.

However, 45 percent of those who were notified of their potential exposure to COVID-19 refused to give contact tracers any information about other people who may have been exposed, meaning many potentially infectious people may not know they are at risk of transmiting the virus.

“These people could be your family, your loved ones, your friends, your coworkers, who are unknowingly contributing to the spread of this virus in our state,” Persichilli said, urging residents to “take the call.”

In cases where contacts were provided, 48 percent of those contacts were notified of their potential exposure; 20 percent of those called didn’t answer the phone.

Contact tracers will identify themselves as working with the local health department, and keep any information they gather confidential, Persichilli said. No contact tracer will ever ask for your social security number, financial information, or immigration status, she said; they are only asking questions focused on stopping the spread of the virus, Murphy added.

Those who receive suspicious calls involving contact tracing are advised to hang up and call the local health department to verify that someone is trying to reach them.

Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.

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