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COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Joe Fiordaliso, president of the Board of Public Utilities, speaks at a press briefing in Trenton on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey spent today recovering from Tropical Storm Isaias that ripped through New Jersey on Tuesday, Aug.5, felling trees and creating power outages for thousands on top of the ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gov. Phil Murphy said during a press briefing Wednesday that recovery may take time, due to the severity of the damage. 

“For some residents, it may take some time, counting in days, not hours,” Murphy said. 

At the height of the storm, 1.4 million residents were without power, said Joe Fiordaliso, president of the Board of Public Utilities. 

As of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, PSE&G was reporting a total of 273,360 customers were still without power.

By comparison, Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to 1.7 million residents at the height of the storm in 2012, Fiordaliso said. Isaias moved much faster than Sandy did, he said, but still caused a lot of damage. Additionally, New Jersey is one of the hardest-hit states, accounting for about a third of the 3.1 million outages in states hit by the storm.  

“New Jersey got literally blacked,” Fiordaliso said. 

Utilities crews have come in from other states, including Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington state, and several midwestern states, as well as Canada, Fiordaliso said. He also seconded Murphy’s remarks that recovery will take time, due to damage to distribution lines and transmission systems. 

“It’s the reality of our situation,” Murphy said.

NJ Transit is still working to resume service on all rail lines. About 250 trees fell down across tracks, power lines and overhead signals during the storm.

NJ Transit is also cross-honoring bus, rail and light rail tickets from other transit agencies.

Murphy acknowledged that the storm had arrived as New Jersey continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “For the rain, it raineth every day,” he said, quoting Feste the jester from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” 

Public awareness campaign

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced a public awareness campaign for testing and contact tracing. The campaign is called “For Each Other, For Us All,” and will run through the summer. The goal is to encourage more people to get tested, and to help people learn about the importance and nature of contact tracing.

“What one person does, or doesn’t do, can impact another, and we must work together to protect not only ourselves, but our families, and our community at large, to get through this pandemic,” Persichilli said. 

Today’s numbers

Health officials reported 378 new positive cases, compared to 483 on Tuesday, bringing the state total to 183,327. 

The positivity rate for tests on Aug. 1 stands at 2.57 percent, up from the 1.88 percent for tests done on July 28. Murphy said Wednesday is the first time “in a number of days” that the rate had exceeded two percent. 

The virus transmission rate declined slightly, from 1.41 on Aug. 4 to 1.32 on Aug. 5, but Murphy said it was still a concern because it was still higher than one. 

Officials reported eight new deaths, down from 10 on Aug.4, bringing the state total to 13,989 deaths. Probable deaths declined to 1,853, down from 1,875 on Aug. 4.

Persichilli said officials have received word of the death of a seven-month-old baby, who tested positive for COVID-19 after death. However, she said, the cause of death has not been determined at this time. For privacy reasons, she said, officials will not release any additional information, including the baby’s gender or hometown. 

Hospitals reported 784 patients, including 117 critical care patients and 47 ventilators in use. “Take yesterday’s numbers and throw them out,” Murphy said, because not every hospital could report its patient census data due to disruptions caused by the storm. 

On Aug. 2, hospitals reported 738 patients, including 144 critical care patients and 49 ventilators in use.

Persichilli said a number of hospitals were on emergency generators for part of Tuesday and into the overnight hours. 

Essex County officials reported 27 new cases and four deaths, now totaling 19,645 and 1,857 respectively.

Montclair health officials reported that the total number of cases on Aug. 4 was 479, where it has been since Aug. 1, but the number of deaths remained at 54. 

No additional cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome have been reported in children, and the number of cases remains at 55, with no fatalities.