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COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at a Sept. 21 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey has passed the 200,000 mark on COVID-19 cases. 

With 396 new positive cases reported today, Sept. 21, the state has had 200,154 documented cases of the disease, officials said today.

Monday’s number compares with the 519 new cases reported on Friday, Sept. 18. The beginning of fall this week has prompted concerns about increases in cases, with more people spending time indoors as the weather turns colder.

Health officials documented New Jersey’s first case on March 4. 

Ed Lifshitz, director of the state’s communicable disease service, said that it does not appear at this time that the increase in numbers is indicative of a second wave. 

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that several countries are seeing what would be considered a surge in cases, and she noted that Israel has returned to a lockdown phase. 

Gov. Phil Murphy said that the virus numbers have tended to ebb and flow over the course of the pandemic, once the springtime peak subsided. So far, he said, there is no evidence of hot spots connected to the reopening of restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, nor have there been any reports of in-school transmission. 

However, Murphy said that hot spots have been connected to house parties and other large gatherings, especially in Monmouth and Ocean counties, while at colleges and universities there have been some reports of new cases in off-campus housing, and some that appeared after special athletic events. But those cases are not connected directly to the athletic programs themselves, he said.

Murphy urged residents to cooperate with contact tracers, and he reiterated that tracers are not trying to punish people for underage drinking or other activities. “It’s not what the call is about. It’s about public health,” he said.

Pandemic fatigue

The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health as well as physical health.

Persichilli said that because of the stressors caused by the pandemic, many people may be experiencing what is known as “pandemic fatigue.” Symptoms may include sadness, helplessness, irritability, lack of focus or motivation, and difficulty sleeping. 

She urged people to get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious food, take breaks from social media and news, get some exercise, and do other activities like reading books.

“It’s like running a marathon. We’re all going to get to the finish line. But it’s going to take time and perseverance,” she said. 

Persichilli said the month of May saw more drug-related deaths than any other month, not just for 2020, but also for 2018 and 2019. In January and July, there was a 12-percent increase in drug overdoses compared to the same time periods in 2019, she said. 

People experiencing pandemic fatigue are invited to call the New Jersey Mental Health Cares Helpline at 1-866-202-HELP.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Murphy took a moment to pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18.

He also denounced President Trump and senior Republicans for trying to push through a nomination to the Supreme Court. “The rank hypocrisy of those like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing,” Murphy said, noting that the Republican Party had resisted nomination efforts for President Obama’s nominee in 2016. “‘Let the people decide,’ they screamed. But today, they’re thumbing their noses at the people in the name of political ideology.” 

Child care expenses

The Department of Human Services has opened up its application portal for families who need child care assistance.

The $150 million program will provide tuition assistance to New Jersey families with incomes up to $75,000 that are in need of either full- or part-time child care due to their child’s remote learning schedule.

Families can apply for this assistance by completing the online application at www.ChildCareNJ.gov. Those applying will need proof of income and a notice or announcement from their child’s school of a remote learning schedule. Tuition assistance will be available through Dec. 30 for eligible residents with school-age children ages 5 to 13.

Today’s numbers

The virus transmission rate sits at 1.12, and the positivity rate for cases is at 1.81 percent, compared to 1.06 and 2.19 percent, respectively, on Sept. 18. 

Officials reported two new deaths, down from five on Sept. 18, bringing the state total to 14,278. The number of deaths probably due to COVID-19 remains at 1,791.

Hospitals reported 349 hospitalizations on Sept. 20, including 87 critical-care patients and 32 on ventilators, compared to 413 patients, 73 critical-care patients and 36 on ventilators on Sept. 17. 

Essex County health officials reported 20,818 total cases on Sept. 21: 10 new cases compared to Sept. 20. The number of deaths was revised downward, from 1,898 to 1,897. 

Montclair health officials reported three new cases on Sept. 20, bringing the total to 552. The total number of deaths remains at 57.