Plus: utilities can’t be shut off until the spring of 2021, indoor contact sports practices may resume, and new unemployment numbers.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 15, 2020
Another 973 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 216,994 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Thursday.
Essex (108), Ocean (108), and Bergen (107) Counties all reported more than 100 new cases today, with Middlesex (89 cases, Hudson (77), and Monmouth (72) Counties, not far behind.
With 56 new positive cases Thursday, Camden County was eighth in the state, maintaining a seven-day average that local leaders said mirrored daily numbers most recently seen during the height of the pandemic this spring.
Sadly, six more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,408 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,789 probable COVID-19-related deaths, up one from previously reported levels.
Since March, 274 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 164 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 4 million people have been tested for the virus statewide, with a 2.47-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.16, spot positivity lower in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 4.35 percent October 11; in South Jersey, it was lower, at 4.28 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.16 from samples taken October 13.
An Rt figure greater than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting more than one other person, on average, and the spread of the virus is increasing.
Since its mid-April COVID-19 spike, the highest reported RT in New Jersey was 1.48, recorded August 1. The lowest was 0.62, recorded June 9.
Long-term care accounts for half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected
Throughout New Jersey, 733 people currently are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 542 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 191 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Among those hospitalized patients, 178 are in intensive or critical care, and 60 of the ICU and critical-care patients (34 percent) are on ventilators.
Across the state, 759 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and 154 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 39,226 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 18 percent of total cases.
That includes 25,387 residents and 13,839 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,172 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (50 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 121 staff deaths.
Of 656 veterans residing in a state-run home, 393 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 244 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 223 of 1,173 patients and 527 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 58 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.
All those pediatric patients 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, although several children have been hospitalized during their treatment.
Since August 1, 22 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 83 individual cases have been traced to schools in 12 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, two outbreaks have been linked to 11 cases.
Indoor and family gatherings blamed for new outbreaks, officials urge caution with holiday plans
As New Jersey braces for a second surge of COVID-19 cases, state officials warn that outbreaks are being linked more than ever to indoor gatherings, and that intra-family transmission of the virus is a culprit, particularly among multigenerational families.
Citing remarks from CDC Director and virologist Dr. Robert Redfield, Murphy suggested that although people are being publicly vigilant, “it is when you let your guard down in your own home that things can go awry.”
With seasonal holidays approaching, the governor warned that families should not travel out-of-state if possible, nor invite relatives from outside New Jersey to join them.
“We do not want a Thanksgiving dinner to turn tragic because someone unwittingly exposed a large number of their family to the coronavirus,” Murphy said.
“We urge you to not gather around the dining room table with anyone outside your immediate household… to move your celebration, if at all possible, outdoors,” he said.
Persichill added further caveats, encouraging those who gather to remain socially distanced and masked, even indoors, and to wash hands frequently.
“This is the first time the entire state has been in the yellow zone,” she said. “We do not want to see the red zone again, but that depends on you.”
“People struggle with believing that their friends and family can give them this virus,” said New Jersey State Police Col. Pat Callahan. “Struggling to believe that your loved one can give it to you is a valid reminder with what we’re seeing throughout this state and country.”
New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said that officials are seeing smaller clusters associated with schools, long-term care facilities, workplaces, and various small gatherings. Remaining vigilant at their onset is the key to controlling them, Tan said.
Utility shut-off moratorium extended through March 2021
On Thursday, Murphy announced that New Jersey would extend its moratorium on utility shut-offs through March 15, 2021.
Service must be restored to any customer whose service has been disconnected.
No Internet or voice service may be disconnected for nonpayment through November 15, 2020, and in homes with school-aged children who need Internet for remote learning, that deadline is extended through March 15, 2021.
Cable providers must offer at least a 12-month repayment plan that would allow consumers to repay their debts in equal installments. No lump-sum payments may be requested; only customers can ask for a shorter repayment schedule.
“As this pandemic and its economic fallout continues, we will continue to have your back,” Murphy said. “And, as the winter months get closer and closer, no one should fear losing the ability to heat their home.”
Anyone able to pay down their tab with a utility or IT provider is encouraged to do so; payment assistance programs, to which $15 million in federal CARES Act assistance has been added, are available through the state Board of Public Utilities and Department of Community Affairs.
Joe Fiordaliso, President of the state Board of Public Utilities urged residents both to “plan now” and “utilize the assistance programs that are available to you if your finances dictate that you need that help.
“You are not in this alone,” Fiordaliso said. “We are in this together. And together, we will eventually get through this.”
Sports, unemployment, tax extensions
Another 29,000 New Jersey residents filed initial claims for unemployment in the past week, up by some 5,500 people from last week.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 1.65 million residents have sought benefits, with 1.44 million qualifying for some form of assistance.
Some $16.5 billion has been paid out, an average of about $12,000 per person.
Murphy also announced Thursday that contact practices and competitions for indoor sports—hockey, basketball, and track—may resume with the same safety protocols in place that have been used outdoors.
Any game that requires 25 or more people to be played, including players, coaches, and officials, cannot have spectators in attendance. The measures apply for in-school recreational leagues as well.
Finally, the deadline to file 2019 Corporate Business Tax Annual returns has been extended from October 15 to November 16.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or try our Direct Dispatch text alerts.