By GWEN OREL
With the announcement of a positive result for COVID-19 in Salem County, all 21 New Jersey counties now have cases, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at today’s press briefing. As of Sunday, March 22, there are 590 new positive test results, for a total of 1,914 cases total in New Jersey.
With 65 new cases, Essex County now has the second-highest number of cases in the state at 172. None of the four new deaths announced today were in Essex County. Sue Portuese, Montclair health director, has announced that three of the new COVID-19 cases are in Montclair, bringing that total to 10.
No other details on the cases are available.
Two people have died from complications related to COVID-19 in Montclair.
Mortalities in New Jersey since the outbreak reached 20 today. The age range is between 30 and 98, with a median age of 73.
There are also 112 cases in which the state is still gathering information, said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
The numbers are expected to increase, as testing increases.
Today’s debriefing follows Murphy’s order yesterday that all New Jersey residents must stay home besides for medical attention or to visit the grocery store or pharmacy.
Yesterday he also closed non-essential businesses. Essential businesses staying open up until 8 p.m. include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, medical supply stores, stores that sell supplies for children, pet stores, convenience stores, banks, office supply stores, laundromats and dry cleaners, mail and delivery stores, and auto shops. Restaurants may only offer food via take-out or delivery.
Throughout Sunday’s press briefing Murphy stressed again and again that New Jerseyans should stay inside. The limit for social gatherings has dropped from 50 to 0, he said, with visits limited to family or very close friend such as a romantic partner. A new interactive hub announced yesterday, covid19.nj.gov, answers questions about closures, what is essential vs. nonessential businesses, the curfew, and more.
Restaurants offering take-out and delivery can keep later hours than the 8 p.m. business curfew, because food is essential, Murphy said. Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Colonel Patrick Callahan, said that arrests could be made for business owners who do not comply.
“Stay in, everybody. Stay home unless you absolutely need to go out,” he said. Comparing COVID-19 to a war, he said, “We win wars when we stay calm, when we’re fact-based and realize we’re one family.”
While Murphy announced in his state of emergency two weeks ago that insurance providers were to waive cost-sharing for testing, he has not ordered that for the treatment itself, which can be very expensive. Murphy and his aides monitored a debate about a Coronavirus Aid bill in the Senate, he said.
The governor reported that racial incidents against Asian Americans have increased. “We are one New Jersey family,” Murphy said. “Everyone is fighting the same fight. This is repugnant and repulsive behavior even in good times, but it is more repugnant and repulsive now.”
New Jersey now has two drive-through FEMA-run testing facilities: one at Bergen Community College, and one that will open tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Monmouth County. The test site at Bergen Community College closed within an hour after opening on Saturday and Sunday, testing 350 each day. Union County has opened a third site, for Union County residents, first responders, and county workers, at Kean University. Testing there is by appointment, arranged through health-care providers. More than 1,000 people have already been tested there, Murphy said. A handful more, including one in Essex, are expected to open this week.
While he understands that people have anxiety, he stressed that the “worried well” should not try to be tested, but only those who have symptoms of respiratory illness and fever. Residents will be screened for fever and respiratory issues. You do not need doctor’s referral, but proof of New Jersey residency is required and insurance is preferred.
As the state prepares for a surge of cases, “up into several thousands,” in the next three to four weeks, the state intends to open closed hospitals, create field hospitals, and open unused wings of hospitals to meet the coming demand for hospital beds. Dormitories from closed college campuses, and empty hotels, may also be used for low symptomatic individuals. The Army Corps of Engineers will assist with cleaning, retrofitting and building.
Persichelli said that the state is aggressively pursuing the idea of a medical reserve corps, through licensing people already licensed in other states, calling on retired physicians and healthcare workers, school nurses (whose schools are now all closed), and people with expertise in the national guard. Medical students in their last semester may also be called upon, and receive credit, she added.
Telehealth mental options without copays are available now. A free mental healthcare hotline is available seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 866-202-HELP. The Department of Human Services, Department of Banking and Insurance, Department of Treasury, Department of Health, Department of Children and Family Services and the New Jersey Division of Community Affairs have all worked together to make this possible.
Persichilli also urged healthy people to donate blood to ensure hospitals have an adequate supply. While blood is not called for with treatment of COVID-19, it is needed for trauma surgery.
Some hospitals, including Hackensack, are receiving donations of masks and PPE.
The Office of Emergency Management is centralizing the effort to manage the inventory of supplies of Personal Protective Equipment.
DISINFORMATION AND EDUCATION
Jared Maples, director of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, warned that a disinformation campaign about a national lockdown and about the disease itself has reached citizens across the country.
A text message went out to many citizens about a national lockdown, which was designed to cause disruption and confusion and led to hoarding and some of the panic seen across the country.
“It is vital to make sure that information is correct, and that you are getting it only from trusted established sources,” he said. “We do know that was from a foreign adversary. China, Iran and Russia all continue publicly to spread misinformation through official statements.”
Murphy added that there is no reason for New Jerseyans to panic about supplies. Toilet paper, hand sanitizers, wipes, will all be back on the shelves, though he has no word on thermometers yet.
“We are the warehouse state. The good news is a lot of this stuff is already in New Jersey,” he said.