Governor Phil Murphy says the state needs federal aid, a savings drawdown, and borrowing to close an operations gap on a day in which he also announces students won’t return to schools physically this year.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 4, 2020
Another 1,621 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 128,269 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
Sadly, 45 more residents perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 7,910 lives lost during the pandemic.
Both the numbers of newly reported cases and deaths is presumed to be artificially low, Murphy noted, due to a network outage that affected the state reporting systems overnight.
Throughout New Jersey, 5,972 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Of those, 1,610 are in intensive or critical care, and 1,189 are on ventilators, both numbers of which are on “a steady decline,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. In Camden County, new cases appear to be doubling every 19 days.
In the past 24 hours, hospitals admitted 362 new patients and discharged 335 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes. Thirty-five patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 395 people in total. Two Central Jersey hospitals were on divert Sunday night, Persichilli said.
Statewide, 508 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19. Of 682 veterans residing in a state-run home, 360 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 123 have died from complications related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 163 of 1,250 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and 10 people have died from complications related to the virus.
Schools stick to remote learning for the rest of the year, seek federal aid
The biggest announcement from Murphy’s Monday briefing is the extension of statewide school closures for in-person instruction through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Private schools with longer academic years will remain closed until at least June 30.
New Jersey becomes the 46th state to close its schools for the remainder of the year, the governor said, adding that keeping them open to in-person learning “felt like a bridge too far.”
Asked to account for the reasoning behind the decision, Murphy cited the difficulty of creating a socially distanced learning environment, a lack of COVID-19 therapeutics or a vaccine, and the possibility that school-aged children could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus to more vulnerable populations.
He stressed that officials had put off Monday’s announcement amid lengthy discussions about the possible mechanisms for reopening.
“We did want to give this every shot we could, particularly for the seniors,” he said.
For the next six weeks or so, schools will continue with remote instruction to meet state minimums of 180 days, and districts are advised to discontinue spring sports.
Murphy said the state would continue working with districts to find “creative ways” to provide senior-year experiences like proms and graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020, including possibly virtual or deferred ceremonies.
On the issue of reopening in the fall, the governor promised “an enormous amount of stakeholder engagement, including what the summer might look like in terms of enrichment opportunities” for parents of school-aged children.
New Jersey also applied for $310 million in federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the CARES Act.
That money, if granted, could be used for: purchasing educational technology, sanitization, and cleaning supplies; mental health supports; summer school and after-school programs; meal distribution to needy students; and activities for special-needs students, among other approved uses.
“Federal officials have signaled that states can anticipate a rapid approval of applications for this stimulus funding,” Murphy said in a statement.
A fiscal disaster ‘on the doorstep’
The governor also said that the dire financial straits in which New Jersey finds itself amid the cost of battling the pandemic will require vetoing its previously budgeted, $1.276-billion surplus.
That figure “is no longer realistic,” Murphy said, adding that “a fiscal disaster is not months away.
“These decisions will be on our doorsteps in a matter of weeks,” the governor said. “Even if Congress delivers, it will still not be enough. We will need to borrow on a short-term basis to bridge immediate needs.”
The decision reverses what had been one of Murphy’s key budget policies: to re-establish the state’s “rainy day” savings fund, as “right now, it’s pouring,” he said.
“We’re on the brink of having to make very tough and very unpalatable decisions,” including wide-scale layoffs of public-sector workers, which the governor said “are already happening at the municipal levels.”
“This is not a theoretical argument,” Murphy said. “I think it’s going to be a question of scale whether or not this is here and there, or this is a massive, across-the-board reality.”
To avoid that reality, the governor said he would veto a number of bills that have already passed the state legislature, including those causes for which federal dollars are or may become available, and “noble notion[s]” that can’t be achieved under the present circumstances. (The full list of vetoes with accompanying statements is available here.)
“I pray that we get very good interpretation of the CARES Act, a big bucket of direct-cash, federal assistance from Congress, and the ability to borrow,” he said.
The governor again stressed that New Jersey needs billions of dollars to support operational costs in its $45 billion 2020-2021 budget, not to deal with legacy financial issues, nor for a “bailout.”
“These discussions aren’t just happening here in New Jersey,” he said; “they’re happening across the nation. We need the federal government to step forward.”
Finally, after the weekend’s reopening of state parks, New Jersey State Police Col. Pat Callahan reported that only a few parking summonses were issued to nature-goers amid “really overwhelming compliance” with social distancing and parks that “hit capacity early.
“Shore towns saw an influx of vehicular and foot traffic,” Callahan said, and “recreational boating was through the roof” amid temperatures in the high 70s.
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