BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
New Jersey will join New York and Connecticut in mandating a 14-day quarantine for travelers coming in from states where COVID numbers have climbed.
Meanwhile, the state’s own reopening continued with announcements Wednesday by Gov. Murphy that museums, aquariums, bowling alleys, libraries and arcades will reopen on July 2 at 25 percent capacity.
The travel advisory will apply to travelers from states — including New Jersey residents who travel to those states and come back — which show a 10 percent positive rate in daily tests, or in states where 10 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 for every 100,000 residents during a seven-day rolling average.
Currently, states which fall into those categories are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas.
New Jersey will continually update and publish on its website a list of states to which the new advisory applies.
Self-quarantine measures will be left up to the person traveling into New Jersey from one of the states with significant community spread, Gov. Phil Murphy said at today’s COVID-19 briefing.
New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are planning an educational campaign along highways, at airports and train stations, and on social media. Hotel greeters will also communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests who have traveled from one of the impacted states.
“Over the course of the past few months, our states have taken aggressive action to flatten the curve and beat back the coronavirus,” Murphy said, “As a result of our collective efforts, we have low infection rates, falling hospitalizations, and have steadily been reopening our economies. Unfortunately many states continue to have high transmission rates. We are asking people to do the right thing.”
The announcement that libraries would be allowed to open next week will have an impact in Montclair, though Montclair Public Library Director Peter D. Coyl said that he could not answer when the MPL would be opening, as they had just heard the news.
Even at 25 percent capacity, all individuals visiting indoor libraries, museums, arcades will be required to keep social distancing measures and to wear masks covering both the nose and mouth.
BOOST IN CONTACT TRACING
As the state reopens, the state will be sending out its first wave of newly Rutgers-trained contact tracers this week to local and county health departments.
With more residents spending time in close contact with people outside of their household in close quarters — the general rule for positive exposure is closer than six feet, for 10 minutes or more — contact tracing will be used more often to contain the virus’ spread.
Officials say the state needs 20 to 30 contact tracers per 100,000 population, which equates to a need of about 3,000 in New Jersey. Right now, throughout the state, there are 900 contact tracers in local health departments. With 22,000 residents applying for contact tracing jobs, the state has hired about 230 so far. The new tracers hired come from all counties, speak a range of 22 languages and are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Thirty-six percent of new tracers are Asian, 29 percent are Black, and 21 percent are white.
In years past, contact tracing has been used to help contain the spread of tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and, most recently, an outbreak of measles over the last two years.
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, contact tracing is seen as a crucial step in slowing down the spread and in discovering virus hot spots. Montclair’s Health Department, which also oversees the health of residents from Cedar Grove and Verona, currently has 10 officials trained in contact tracing, said public health nurse Cheryl Tomassello.
In a contact tracing investigation, public health staff work with a patient they have been notified tested positive to help them recall everyone they have had close contact with during the time they might have been infectious. Tomassello said that includes people they have been in contact with for more than 10 minutes closer than six feet apart.
Public health staff then begin calling those individuals and warning them of their potential exposure as “rapidly and sensitively as possible.” To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.
“Receiving the call does not mean you have the virus. We just want to check in on you. And it’s [contact tracing] is the most efficient way to contain the virus,” said Deandrah Cameron, a contact tracer.
Contact tracers will never ask for social security numbers, money or immigration status. The top priority is privacy of the individuals they are contacting, and tracers can advise on how to seek a place to quarantine, and apply for unemployment and family services.
“We need your help to ensure we stop the spread of the virus. Please answer the call and provide them with the information they need,” said state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
New Jersey health officials reported 317 new positive cases today, down from the 382 reported yesterday. Forty-two new deaths were reported, down from the 57 reported yesterday. The state totals are now 169,892 cases positive cases and 12,995 deaths.
The positivity rate for tests rose from 1.96 to 2.83 percent.
The rate of transmission of the virus continues to creep up, now at 0.86 compared to 0.78 on Monday. But eight counties have rates of over 1.0, and 10 of the state’s 21 counties have seen a 50 percent increase in the rate of transmission over the past week. Murphy would not say which counties were most affected.
On Tuesday night, hospitals saw the highest number of patients with COVID since last Thursday, at 1,196, up from Monday’s night number of 1,092. Fewer people were in intensive care or on ventilators however, with 275 in ICU of which 214 were on ventilators. Both numbers are down from Monday, when 307 were in critical care and 216 were on ventilators.
More people entered (77) and left (110) the hospital last night compared to Monday when hospitals sent home 48 patients and admitted 50 new patients.
While New Jersey’s situation was improving, the governor said, the state still ranks high on certain metrics, including ranking eighth overall for hospitalizations per day and fifth for per-capita deaths per day.
On Tuesday, Essex County health officials reported only seven new cases, down from the 22 reported yesterday; the county total is now at 18,608. After reporting 12 new deaths yesterday, today the county removed five deaths from its death toll, which is now at 1,757.
Today, Montclair health officials reported another case bringing the total to 441 cases. Monday saw three new cases. The number of deaths increased by one and is now at 51.
Murphy said with testing capacity at its highest in New Jersey, all should get tested.