Coronavirus Update: 2,200 New Cases, 267 Total Deaths; $600 Unemployment Bump, Bonuses for Companies that Keep Workers on

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Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli issues new guidance for long-term care facilities, and DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe offers rules for enjoying state parks and wildlife areas.

By Matt Skoufalos | March 31, 2020

NJ coronavirus dashboard, March 31, 2020. Credit: NJ DOH.

Another 2,196 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total of confirmed cases to 18,696, Governor Phil Murphy announced Tuesday.

In Camden County, another 41 residents tested positive for the virus overnight, and three more county residents died from complications related to COVID-19.

They are among 69 residents whose deaths from the virus were announced Tuesday; to date, 267 New Jerseyans have perished this way.

Of those, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said 55 percent are male and 45 percent are female.

The bulk of the deceased are those older than 80 (47 percent), followed by those aged 65 to 79 (30 percent), and those aged 50 to 64 (17 percent), Persichilli said. Another 12 percent are aged 30 to 49, and only one percent of fatalities are younger than 30 years of age.

Tellingly, 42 percent were already suffering from underlying conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, or obesity, Persichilli said. Of the 44,330 tests processed at state labs to date, 17,253 were positive for COVID-19, or nearly 39 percent.

Persichilli also noted specific concerns for vulnerable populations housed in 375 long-term care facilities throughout the state. Of those facilities, 81 have reported at least one COVID-19-positive resident.

To that end, Persichilli announced “universal masking of all staff and anyone entering the[se]  facilit[ies].

“We are taking this step to reduce the risk of illness entering into these facilities,” she said. “Those showing respiratory virus symptoms should be masked while staff is providing direct care.”

Persichilli also said long-term care facilities “must create separate wings, units, or floors” to receive asymptomatic residents, keeping them apart from those areas in which they accept COVID-19-positive residents. Staff interactions between both units should be limited as much as possible to avoid spread of the virus.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – 3-31-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Testing updates

COVID-19 tests still remain in short supply, even as 26 mass testing sites are open or planned within the state.

The first site in Camden County was announced today; it will open at Cooper’s Poynt Park in Camden City on April 1.

Symptomatic individuals only will be seen with a doctor’s referral.

The site will accommodate both walk-up and drive-up visitors, and will operate from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays through April 15.

Unemployment bump, bonuses for businesses that don’t shed payroll

Murphy urged employers to keep workers on payroll throughout the pandemic, allowing them to benefit from federally backed expanded paid sick and family leave programs.

As an incentive, companies that keep their workers on will be eligible for “a dollar-for-dollar payroll tax credit against those costs,” the governor said.

“This is available to 99.8 percent of all businesses in New Jersey, and all but our largest employers,” Murphy said. “Keep your workers on payroll throughout this crisis so we can deliver them peace of mind, and so we can get our economy going that much faster when this emergency ends.”

The federal stimulus package will also add $600 more per week in aid for unemployment-eligible residents through July 31, he said. The earliest filers will receive their increases next week; more could be delayed amid record volumes of applicants.

The governor also described having had high-level conversations with national legislators about “a Main Street stimulus” that he hopes will include the elimination of the $10,000 SALT deduction cap “to help New Jersey’s middle-class homeowners,” he said.

Governor Phil Murphy announces benefits for workers and employers during his COVID-19 update March 31, 2020. Credit: NJ Pen.

Murphy promised further details to come on the state budget and tax-filing deadlines.

He also alluded to the formation of “a skunkworks team” to start preliminary plans for reopening the state after the pandemic subsides, “whenever that may come.”

Concerns about COVID-19 reinfection from out-of-staters are a top consideration in any such discussion, the governor said.

“With all due respect to the states that aren’t as remotely compliant as we are, or New York, we aren’t going through the pain of this… just to be exposed to the lowest common denominator,” Murphy said.

“We’re not going to pay this price and have to watch that movie again,” he said, adding, “by the way, the virus itself could ebb and flow, even if we do everything right,” he said.

NJ DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. Credit: NJDEP.

Parks remain open, with important rules

Amid the pandemic, New Jersey state parks, forest and wildlife management areas remain open for passive recreation—walking, biking, hiking, fishing—and park entrance fees are being waived temporarily.

However, residents should be aware that it’s not all business as usual, said Catherine McCabe, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

She offered a handful of important notes.

Park facilities, including all restrooms, are closed, “so go before you go,” McCabe said.

Similarly, she asked residents to “keep travel to a minimum, and visit the park nearest you.”

Visitors must practice social distancing everywhere, McCabe said: “If you see a lot of people or a crowded parking lot, go to another area of the park, or visit another time.”

She also asked that park visitors not attempt to force their way into closed restrooms or destroy signs placed there by park workers.

“These rules are not optional,” McCabe said. “Please respect the officers’ directions when they ask you to disperse or move on.”

The state also opened trout season 10 days early for catch-and-release only. State-raised trout have been released early to disperse them, so McCabe asked fishers to similarly spread themselves out to reduce their risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19.

“Conveniently, this is the typical length of a fishing pole, so it should be easy for you to measure,” McCabe said.

Finally, in a reminder to those who would flaut the ban on gatherings, New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan urged residents to “stay home before this hits home.

“One gathering is too many,” Callahan said.

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

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