Also: Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli asks residents to adhere to social distancing and stay at home: ‘This is what we can do to support them.’
By Matt Skoufalos | March 23, 2020
An additional 935 new cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have been reported in New Jersey, bringing the statewide total to 2,844, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
Seven more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide total to 21: five men and two women, aged 57 to 91, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
Two of the deceased had pre-existing conditions; one was associated with a long-term care facility. They were residents of Warren, Somerset, Union, Bergen, Passaic, and Essex Counties.
Fifteen new COVID-19 cases were reported in Camden County, said Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli in a separate briefing, bringing the total to 39.
The new cases include:
- a Blackwood woman in her 40s
- a Camden woman in her 60s
- four Cherry Hill men in their 20s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, respectively
- a Cherry Hill woman in her 60s
- a Clementon woman in her 70s and a Clementon man in his 60s
- two Haddon Township women, in their 50s and 70s, respectively
- a Pennsauken man in his 30s
- a Somerdale man in his 40s
- a Voorhees man in his 40s
- a Waterford man in his 60s
- a Waterford Works woman in her 60s
Cappelli also announced the first local death related to the virus, a Barrington resident in her 80s.
“How many deaths do take place will depend largely on how we act as a community,” Cappelli said; “how we take self-responsibility on preventing the spread of this virus.”
Cappelli also urged residents to be compassionate towards one another, saying “kindness is important in these times.”
The county still doesn’t have a COVID-19 drive-through testing site yet, and Cappelli said he was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to bring one to South Jersey.
Easing burden on healthcare workers
As of Friday, about 600 hospitalized New Jerseyans are awaiting test results on their COVID-19 status, Persichilli said; another 100 are among those already counted in the state tallies.
Murphy also ordered all private labs to report their COVID-19 testing results directly to the state Department of Health, the better to centralize the data and guide real-time decision-making.
In efforts to limit further spread of the virus and conserve healthcare resources, the governor announced the suspension of all elective surgeries and invasive procedures as of 5 p.m. March 27.
“No operation that can be safely delayed, as determined by a patient’s doctor or dentist, will be performed at this time,” Murphy said.
“We need to lessen the burden on the healthcare system and depletion of PPE (personal protective equipment).”
Persichilli urged residents to adhere to social distancing measures and stay home as much as possible to support the already stretched healthcare resources in the state. She challenged people to embrace the personal responsibility associated with the broad quarantine.
“Our healthcare professionals are making sacrifices every day, caring for sick patients and leaving their loved ones at home,” she said. “This is what we can do to support them.”
Law enforcement crackdowns coming
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also cautioned New Jerseyans that, “for those who refuse to do their part, let me assure you there will be serious legal consequences.
“We’re pursuing violations of the stay-at-home order, going after companies and individuals that illegally price gouge, and stopping those who use this pandemic as an excuse to justify acts of bias and acts of hate,” Grewal said.
“Violating these orders is a criminal offense in this state,” he said. “There are a range of charges available to us to ensure compliance. The time for warnings is over.”
The New Jersey Division of Community Affairs has received more than 1,400 COVID-19-related complaints concerning some 900 businesses across New Jersey, Grewal said. Thus far, 350 investigations have been opened, 160 cease-and-desist letters issued, and 30 subpoenas as well.
“I will guarantee you that additional fraud cases are going to come, particularly when federal money starts to come in,” the attorney general said.
Grewal also remarked on the number of bias incidents reported against New Jerseyans of Asian heritage during the COVID-19 outbreak, a circumstance that Murphy decried in yesterday’s briefing.
“Hate in all its forms is a disease that we have to contain in this moment as well as all moments,” he said. “Even though there are a handful of incidents, that’s a handful too many in this state.”
Release of county jail inmates
Murphy also announced a broad plan to consider for release any person serving a year or less in a New Jersey county jail.
Such individuals typically were sentenced for probation, municipal court, or disorderly persons offenses, Grewal said.
Each can be released unless county prosecutors or the state attorney general’s office objects; those cases will be heard by a special master.
“All these individuals will have to comply with the same stay-at-home orders, and they’ll have to complete their sentences when public health order concludes,” Grewal said.
The order was signed Sunday night by New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and would take effect no later than tomorrow morning. It affects about 1,000 people statewide.
In a statement, ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha called the order “truly a landmark agreement, and one that should be held up for all states dealing with the current public health crisis.
“It shows the strength of New Jersey – that when a crisis hits, we can work together to weather through with justice and humanity,” Sinha said. “We also hope that the principles guiding this agreement – compassion, dignity, looking out for all people’s well-being – will play a larger role in criminal justice once this crisis abates.”
Persichilli said she had had no reports of a COVID-19 case within the county correctional system.
Schools likely to stay closed, some jobs open up
The ability to serve food-insecure residents, including school-aged children who receive free and reduced-price meals when class is in session, is another concern going forward, Murphy said.
“The reality is that schools will overwhelmingly likely remain closed for a long and extended period of time, and we must ensure that every student is taken care of,” he said.
Although all non-essential businesses have been shuttered during the pandemic response and telework orders established for those who can work remotely, several jobs in retail, warehousing, and manufacturing distribution are available to keep the state supply chain going.
Those are available for healthy people at the state COVID-19 information hub.
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