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New Jersey’s first COVID-19 Community-Based Testing Site opened today, March 20, at Bergen Community College in Paramus. One in Holmdel.
(Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office).

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

While New Jersey is starting to see some encouraging trends on the rate of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Phil Murphy warned on Tuesday that the COVID-19 outbreak is far from over.

“We are not there yet. I repeat. We are not there yet,” Murphy said.

The state reported 3,361 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the state’s overall total to 44,416.

There were 232 new deaths, bringing the state total to 1,232.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli did not present the county-by-county numbers of new cases and fatalities. The counties with the highest rate of cases are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union and Passaic counties.

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, Essex County was reporting 5,042 positive cases and 231 deaths.

Of the most recent deaths, 60 percent are male, and 40 percent are female. Forty-five percent were over the age of 80. Thirty-three deaths were associated with long-term care facilities.

The state also has compiled demographic data for 723 of the deaths, Persichilli said. Of those 723, 60 percent were white, 23 percent were black or African American, five percent were Asian, and 11 percent were categorized as other. The state is still collecting demographic data for the other deaths, Persichilli said.

Murphy said that the COVID-19 mortality rate among black and African Americans was troubling, and disproportionately high compared to other demographic groups. He added that even during relatively peaceful times, communities of color were among the communities most likely to get left behind.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Montclair had 193 cases. Twenty people have died.

Two ShopRite grocery stores in West Caldwell and Bloomfield, reported on Tuesday that they had at least one employee test positive for COVID-19.

Bergen County still had the highest rate of cases Tuesday: 7,533 total cases and 263 deaths.

Murphy signed executive orders extending the state’s public emergency period by 30 days and closing all state and county parks. The park closure was necessary because not enough people were practicing social distancing in the parks, he said.

For municipal parks, it is up to that municipality to determine whether the parks should be closed. Murphy urged residents, if their local parks are closed, not to travel to another town whose parks are open.

All of Montclair’s municipal parks have been closed since March.

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said he was very pleased with the work that districts and families have done. “In 20 days, we asked them to go from a brick and mortar school to a virtual learning situation,” he said.

New Jersey ordered the closing of all public, private and parochial schools as of March 18. Many districts, including Montclair, had already opted to close by that time.

New Jersey is suspending all usual assessments, including the portfolio process for students who are seeking that route to graduate. Additionally, the state has suspended the use of testing data in teacher evaluations. How the evaluations will be carried out for this year is being determined at this time, he said.

Repollet said that 70 percent of school districts reported that at least 90 percent of their students have access to the Internet at home. For students who do not have immediate access to the Internet or to their own computers, local groups have worked to get students set up with laptops, hot spots and other needed equipment, Repollet said.

It is estimated that 110,000 students do not have access to the Internet at home, and 150,000 students need access to one-to-one devices.

The continuing length of the outbreak has now called into question what will happen for high schools that would ordinarily be holding graduation ceremonies in June.

Repollet said it was up to each district to determine what to do about graduation, including coming up with solutions to hold some variety of virtual celebration, or to hold another in-person celebration later in the year after the outbreak is over.

“I’m not trying to be flippant, but I wouldn’t put down the non-refundable checks on those celebrations,” Murphy said when asked by a reporter what the outbreak would mean for families who had planned to hold graduation parties for their high school seniors.

Murphy said it was highly doubtful that schools would be able to go ahead with a graduation ceremony in late May or early June. “I just personally don’t see it.”

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