Coronavirus Update: 537 Dead, 25,590 Cases in NJ; Child Abuse Concerns, ‘Knucklehead Row’ Pandemic Offenders


Governor Phil Murphy also announces public television learning opportunities for school-aged children, asks residents to share positive stories with #NJThanksYOU.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 2, 2020

NJ COVID-19 Dashboard. 4-2-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

New Jersey has reported another 3,489 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing its statewide total to 25,590, Governor Phil Murphy announced Thursday.

Another 182 residents lost their lives to complications from the virus, bringing the statewide total to 537 deaths.

Three were Camden County residents, and another 48 locals number among the newly confirmed statewide cases, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Among the 182 newly announced deaths statewide, 17 people were associated with a long-term care facility; 110 of the 375 such facilities in New Jersey have reported at least one COVID-19 case.

Demographically, the deceased are split, 59 percent male to 41 percent female, with
47 percent older than 80 years, and 35 percent suffering from an underlying health condition.

Statewide, laboratories have processed 56,915 COVID-18 test specimens, more than 41 percent of which have come back positive (23,395 samples). These samples were collected seven to 12 days ago, meaning officials can’t yet track the impact of social distancing and stay-at-home orders on the spread of the virus.

As such, Persichilli urged residents to “take personal responsibility to reduce the spread by staying at home,” as COVID-19 transmission is possible even among asymptomatic individuals.

North Jersey hospitals are already seeing increased demands for care that are straining their resources, Persichilli said. Wednesday night, four hospitals were “on divert,” meaning they were re-routing patients for want of capacity. These are different from the seven that had been on divert the night before, the commissioner said.

“As hospitals are managing volumes, they are moving patients along appropriately,” Persichilli said.

However, as case counts climb across New Jersey, Persichilli said the state is “preparing to release that valve by opening up alternative care sites.”

These will include the four field hospitals being constructed in Secaucus, Edison, and Atlantic City by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Air National Guard, and New Jersey State Police. Components of a fourth hospital are being housed in Wall Township, Murphy said earlier, awaiting potential deployment at an as-yet-undetermined location in the state.

Each of these facilities is intended to take patients who are less sick out of hospitals so that they can care for the critically ill. They are intended to house patients who do not show signs of COVID-19, but personnel there will be prepared to take care of those who develop it, Persichilli said.

NJ Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. Credit: NJ Pen.

Concerns for child and domestic abuse amid quarantine

The same stresses that fray families under normal circumstances have been exacerbated during the pandemic, and New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer asked residents to pay close attention to “families that were struggling before” during the stay-at-home order.

“We know families are experiencing a number of other stressors during this crisis,” Beyer said, from higher anxiety to economic pressures. More than ever, people are cut off from their usual supports, which “can lead to an increase in maltreatment and family violence, including child abuse and neglect and domestic violence,” she said.

Beyer cited a 32-percent year-over-year drop in the number of referrals to the state child abuse and neglect hotline (from 7,501 in March 2019 to 5,117 in March 2020) not as an indicator of improved conditions, but as cause to worry that incidents aren’t being logged “in one of our highest reporting months.”

“When children are not in school or seen by coaches, healthcare workers, or law enforcement, there is a reduction in reporting,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean that children are experiencing less abuse and neglect, it means it’s not being seen or heard, and so no response is being taken.”

Beyer urged friends and neighbors to “be extra vigilant for those children and families who might be having a hard time right now.” She recommended checking in and offering to help relieve stress, whether dropping off a meal, helping navigate aid networks, or simply calling to talk.

“States are already seeing an increase in the incidents of child abuse” during the pandemic, Beyer said.

To support families with parents who are deemed essential employees, the state has also authorized emergency childcare assistance on the order of $356 to $450 per week, regardless of income. Families are asked to register with their county resource and referral agencies to access this aid.

“Knucklehead Row,” Phil Murphy’s nickname for COVID-19 aggravated assault suspects. Credit: NJ OAG.

‘Knucklehead Row’, commandeering PPE

COVID-19-related criminal complaints range “from the benign… to the aggressive,” with New Jerseyans accused of spitting and coughing on police at the point of arrest, Murphy said.

“We’ve got to get away from all of that,” the governor said.

“We need 100 percent compliance [with the stay-at-home order].”

To that end, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal published the images of what Murphy called “the first members of Knucklehead Row,” six individuals accused of claiming to have the virus and trying to infect police.

New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan said such violations will be treated as aggravated assault on an officer. If convicted, those charged face a fine of $10,000 and 18 months in jail.

Callahan described a handful of incidents related to the pandemic during Murphy’s briefing, including officers breaking up a 60-to-70-person funeral in Lakewood; the arrest of a Morris County driver with an active warrant who allegedly “drooled and spit” on her arresting officer; 130 citations and four closed businesses in Newark; a party in Morris Township; and a dispute at a towyard.

Murphy also officially empowered Callahan to commandeer medical supplies that could be used in the COVID-19 effort; the colonel is heading up statewide equipment procurement for healthcare workers and first responders.

Under the order, authorities can confiscate supplies like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks and nitrile gloves, from the stores of non-operational facilities for use by those in acute-care settings.

“We also hope that Pat doesn’t have to use this authority,” Murphy said. “We would hope that folks step forward and do the right thing.”

NJ Governor Phil Murphy – 4-2-20 COVID-19 briefing. Credit: NJ Pen.

Economic impact, stories of inspiration

Murphy also offered remarks on economic conditions in the state, as more than 362,000 New Jersey residents filed for unemployment assistance, including more than 206,000 in the past week.

“National numbers are also record-setting,” the governor said, asking residents to overlook “delays and backups in the system” while workers sift through them all.

“Be patient; you will not lose one penny of your benefits,” he said.

Murphy also directed residents to the estimated 44,000 job offerings at essential workplaces through the state jobs portal.

For parents of school-aged children, NJTV is partnering with the New Jersey Education Association to produce “Learning Live,” four hours of public television classes for kids in grades three through six. Subjects include language arts, math, science, social studies, art, music, and physical education. Programming for third-graders begins at 9 a.m. April 6, and changes every hour for the next grade level, up to 12 noon classes for sixth-grade students.

Finally, the governor asked residents to submit stories of those making an effort to improve conditions during the pandemic using the hashtag #NJThanksYOU.

Such stories could help “spread some hope, and optimism, and perhaps some good humor at a time when we are all desperately in need of it,” Murphy said.

“Remember, folks, we’re not at the beginning of the end, and I’m afraid to say we’re not even at the end of the beginning,” he said. “We have a tough, tough road ahead of us, and it’s already proven to be a tough road.”

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

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