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Gov. Phil Murphy discusses the importance of contact tracing.
COURTESY RICH HUNDLEY

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Tomorrow, June 11, will mark the 100th day since the first New Jersey resident tested positive for COVID-19. In that time, more than 166,000 residents have contracted the virus, and more than 12,000 have died of complications. But although the overall numbers are high, New Jersey officials said the number of new cases have dropped so significantly in recent days, they are ready to begin opening back up on Monday, June 15.

In addition to a robust testing program in which any New Jersey resident can get tested at one of hundreds of testing sites throughout the state, the state is ramping up its contact tracing program.

Contact tracing is nothing new to health departments who have used the method to help contain the spread of tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and, most recently, an outbreak of measles over the last two years. But now contact tracers are dealing with so many unknowns with the newest disease — COVID-19, said Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, contact tracing is a crucial step in slowing down the spread and in discovering virus hot spots. In the next few weeks 1,600 contact tracers will be trained and hired, joining the already 900 tracers throughout New Jersey at local and county health departments. Montclair currently has 10. 

“It’s not a question if [the virus] will come back, it will come back,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at today’s debriefing. 

When a person tests positive for COVID, a tracer at the local health department contacts the person and asks for details about any person that has come in contact for more than 10 minutes and at less than six feet. Those people are then contacted, advising them they have been in close proximity to a person with COVID. The tracer suggests they get tested and to isolate.

The tracer will ask basic information such as health status, living situation, insurance status and nature of their work. All will be kept confidential. The identity of the person who tested positive is not released by the tracer, and a tracer will never ask for social security number, financials or immigration status. 

“Picking up the phone or returning the call is important to not just the individual, but family members and the community as a whole,” said Murphy, acknowledging that some might be nervous about the data. “Your privacy will be protected. Please pick up the phone.”

“Our goal is to recruit culturally competent and multilingual individuals from communities across the state,” Persichilli said. “Training will include cultural sensitivity, cultural bias, and historic cultural context training, to ensure that when contact tracers are connecting with exposed individuals from diverse communities, they have cultural awareness and aptitude.” 

RELATED: MONTCLAIR’S USE OF CONTACT TRACERS

TODAY’S NUMBERS

New Jersey officials reported 611 new positive COVID-19 cases today, June 10, up from the 375 new cases reported on Tuesday, bringing the state total to 166,346.

The state’s death toll is now at 12,377, with 74 new deaths reported today, a decrease from the 91 reported yesterday.

The transmission rate for the virus per a COVID positive person has dropped to 0.64 percent, down from 0.70 percent, and the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests was 3.04 percent from Monday’s tests.

On Tuesday night, hospitals reported 1,701 hospitalizations, down from the 1,736 reported on Monday. Of those, 437 patients were in critical care, with 342 ventilators in use, both numbers dropping from the night before, when 510 were in critical care and 373 ventilators were in use. 

Hospitals admitted 156 new patients Tuesday night, up from the 84 new patients admitted the night before. More were discharged however, 171, compared to the 80 discharged the night before.

On Wednesday morning, Essex County officials reported 13 new cases, down from the 64 new cases reported Tuesday. Only one new death was reported down from the 12 new deaths reported yesterday. The county totals are now 18,148 positive cases and 1,719 deaths.

On Tuesday, Montclair Health officials reported one new case, bringing the township total to 429. The number of fatalities remains at 50. Wednesday’s numbers were not available.

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