Governor Murphy fires back at critics of the state’s handling of its long-term care centers during the pandemic, saying facilities that readmitted COVID-positive residents against orders “will pay a price.”
By Matt Skoufalos | August 10, 2020
Another 258 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 185,031 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
Sadly, four more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,025 lives lost during the pandemic.
Those deaths occurred in April, May, and July, the governor said.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state acknowledged another 1,853 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Rate of transmission (Rt) falls to 0.98, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.62 percent August 6; it’s highest in South Jersey, at 2.37 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling average rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.98 August 8, declining from a post-pandemic-peak high of 1.48 recorded August 1.
An 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 spread of the virus is slowing.
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
Throughout New Jersey, 545 people currently are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 285 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 260 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Among those hospitalized patients, 83 are in intensive or critical care, and 29 of the ICU and critical-care patients (35 percent) are on ventilators.
Across the state, 620 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and 261 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 37,590 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 20 percent of total cases.
That includes 24,603 residents and 12,987 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 6,966 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. Ten veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 240 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 213 of 1,221 patients and 511 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and six 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. There have been 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 deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.
$155 million to shore up Long-Term Care sites
On Monday, the governor announced that New Jersey will dedicate $155 million in state and federal funds to supporting long-term care sites “as they look to reopen to visitors and resume normal operations.”
Facilities will progress along a phased reopening based on the time elapsed since their last outbreak, and must meet baseline infection control measures, personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory, and resident and staff testing thresholds.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) will establish these reopening benchmarks based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and NJDOH, Murphy said.
Of the $155 million, $130 million will “stabilize and support” the LTC workforce, with $78 million (60 percent) dedicated to hiring certified nursing aides (CNAs) and improving their wages to push back on turnover.
The remaining $52 million will support LTC infection controls, including preparedness and response costs, procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), and enhanced cleaning and sanitization services.
CNAs are “the front line of the nursing workforce,” said New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. They help residents with daily living needs, including bathing, dressing, getting into bed, eating, and going to the bathroom.
“We anticipate it to be an average hourly wage increase of 20 percent,” Johnson said, noting that the average CNA wage is estimated at $15 per hour.
Johnson said the agency “recognize[s] the important need for facilities to have a stable workforce as we approach the fall and any potential second wave of the virus.”
Murphy noted that the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDHS) has the authority to recoup any funds allocated to facilities found to be out of compliance with the reopening requirements. Persichilli said that in addition to signing attestations of compliance with the rules, those facilities out of compliance will be subject to enforcement, including fines.
Only COVID-19-negative, asymptomatic, or recovered LTC residents may receive visitors, and no one can visit any resident who is being isolated for precautionary concerns. Persichilli also said the NJDOH guidance for nursing homes will create rules for “essential caregiver visits.”
Murphy: LTCs that re-admitted COVID-positive patients “will pay a price”
The pandemic has had an outsized impact on LTC staff and residents, and the Murphy administration has been criticized for LTCs struggling to contain the virus in its early weeks.
When the question came up again during Monday’s briefing, the governor fired back at the “Monday-morning-quarterbacking” of critics who said the state allowed COVID-positive LTC residents to return to facilities.
“That talking point is myth,” Murphy said. “It may have happened, but it was completely against our and Judy’s directives.”
In late April, as many as 25 percent of Camden County LTCs couldn’t admit or readmit patients due to their inability to safely cohort COVID-positive residents. For a time, more than 110 such facilities across the state were in similar positions.
Murphy reminded reporters of those orders from the NJDOH even as he promised “a full review of every step we have taken” during the crisis.
“The directives about COVID-positive patients, or residents being reintroduced to facilities was black-and-white, crystal-clear, and if folks violated it, they will pay a price,” the governor said.
New Jersey can’t afford federal payroll tax holiday
Amid a federal legislative stalemate, on August 8, President Donald Trump signed four executive orders designed to provide economic relief to those affected by the pandemic.
Among them was a “payroll tax holiday” that would allow workers earning less than $100,000 to defer withholding of Social Security and Medicare contributions from their paychecks for the final quarter of the calendar year.
But those moves wouldn’t help out the 16 million Americans who are still out of work, Forbes reported, and those who take the deferral could owe those back taxes next spring, unless they are forgiven.
On Monday, Murphy said the move would have “little if any stimulus effect on the national economy,” adding that he didn’t think New Jersey “could afford to participate in this program.
“Unfortunately, a payroll tax holiday will not save workers anything in the long run, as they will still be on the hook for the taxes owed come next April 15,” Murphy said.
“A payroll tax holiday diverts billions of dollars we need for Social Security and Medicare,” he said, adding that it “means nothing to the unemployed when there is no paycheck coming in.
“States are going broke, and millions of Americans are unemployed, yet the solution calls for states to create a new program we can’t afford to begin with and don’t know how to administer because of this uncertainty,” Murphy said.
The governor continued to stump for federal aid, pleading with Congress to plug the pandemic-sized holes in its budget with direct cash assistance; he has estimated that New Jersey needs at least $20 billion in aid.
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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