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nursing homes
COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson speaks at a Monday, Aug. 10 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey officials will provide aid money to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to increase wages for staff, conduct weekly COVID-19 tests for staff, and to improve infection control. 

On Monday, Aug. 10, state officials announced $130 million in Medicaid funding to long-term care facilities: $62 million in state funding, and $68 million in matching federal funds. Of that total amount, $78 million will be used to increase wages for certified nurse aides, Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said. 

The exact wage increase will vary among each facility, but Johnson said it would represent an average of a 20 percent wage increase. 

Facilities that fail to pass funding along as wage increases, or have problems with infection control could have their funding recouped, Johnson said. 

Additionally, $25 million in CDC funding will be provided to pay for weekly tests of staff. 

Long-term care facilities have been especially hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An estimated 25,000 COVID-19 cases were identified in residents of long-term care facilities, as well as 16,000 cases in staff. There have also been 7,000 lab-confirmed deaths of people associated with long-term care facilities. 

“The price that we’ve paid as a state is breathtaking, particularly in [long-term care facilities,]” Gov. Phil Murphy said. 

Evidence has indicated, he said, that COVID-19 was widely spread in the facilities by asymptomatic staff and visitors. 

Facilities that meet certain benchmarks, including no new COVID-19 cases, a sufficient level of staff and personal protective equipment, an infection control team and a documented plan for improved communication, will be able to allow visitors back in, provided that those visitors practice social distancing, wear masks or face shields, and are not symptomatic. 

Murphy also sharply criticized “Monday morning quarterbacking” by certain officials, including former Gov. Chris Christie, on New Jersey’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on nursing homes. “This is war. Morning, noon and night,” Murphy said of the directives. He added that there will be a full review of the pandemic’s impact on long-term care facilities.

Indoor dining and executive orders

Authorities have continued to issue executive order violations for over-capacity house parties, indoor dining, and other offenses. 

In Montclair, Cuban Pete’s was issued an executive order violation. State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said police were alerted that indoor dining was taking place at the restaurant, and authorities determined on arrival that was the case. Callahan said the restaurant’s owner was charged with a violation. 

Authorities in Howell broke up a house party with approximately 300 people in attendance, with eight agencies needed to help disperse the guests, said Murphy. 

Over the weekend, media outlets ran photos of long lines of people queued outside bars.

State officials were forced to lower the limit on indoor gatherings to 25 people on Aug. 3, after the rate of virus transmission began to climb over the past two weeks. 

“Consider this your warning before you go out drinking this weekend,” Murphy said of the house party in Howell. “Come on, man…this can’t go on.” 

Eateries may offer outdoor dining, with tables spaced apart, as well as takeout and curbside pickup, but indoor dining has not yet been allowed to resume. 

Air conditioning is a significant risk factor associated with indoor dining, Murphy said. 

Today’s numbers

As of today, Aug. 10, state officials reported 258 new positive cases, down from 378 on Friday, bringing the state total to 185,031 cases. The positivity rate dropped to 1.62 percent from 1.95 percent on Friday. The virus transmission rate also dropped below 1.0 to 0.98. On Friday, the virus transmission rate was 1.15. 

Officials also reported four new deaths, compared to 12 on Friday, bringing the state total to 14,025. There are also 1,853 probable deaths. 

On Sunday, hospitals reported 545 patients with suspected COVID-19, including 83 critical care patients and 29 ventilators in use, compared to 551 patients, 120 critical care patients and 54 ventilators on Thursday. Murphy said the number of hospitalizations was the lowest it has been since March when the pandemic hit. 

Essex County health officials reported 116 new cases on Monday, Aug. 10, bringing the total to 19,786. The number of cases on Sunday was revised downward from 19,687 to 19,670. Two new deaths were reported, compared to five on Sunday, bringing the total to 1,869. 

Montclair health officials reported on Monday that the total number of cases remained at 483, and the number of deaths remained at 54.