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COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at a Sept. 23 press conference.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Three weeks into the start of school, New Jersey health officials are beginning to see cases of COVID-19 among students and teachers. 

At Wednesday’s debriefing, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli did not give any specific numbers or identify counties or school districts where the virus is beginning to surface. The state is currently not providing data on school districts where students or teachers are testing positive, and has not yet indicated that it will do so.

But, Persichilli said: “I need to remind you that this virus is still among us,” 

Schools are required to close if they identify two or more cases in separate classrooms, which would indicate an outbreak not confined to a particular group of students. 

At least 436 school districts made plans to start school on a hybrid schedule, with groups of students attending school in alternating cohorts. Montclair is going with all-remote learning until at least Nov. 1. 

Gov. Phil Murphy said that with no vaccine or therapeutics yet approved, and with the likelihood that those could still be far off, residents would still have to rely on social distancing, mask use and hand washing to stay healthy. “We’re left with the basics. We have to lean on the basics.” 

He noted that the United Kingdom had recently instituted new COVID-19 restrictions, including size limits on groups of people and 10 p.m. curfews, after a rise in cases there. 

Today’s numbers

Health officials reported 430 new tests, up from 396 on Monday, Sept. 21, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 200,988. 

Murphy said that 53 tests were subtracted from the state total from Sept. 22, either because of duplication or testing error. 

The positivity rate stands at 1.93 percent, up from 1.81 percent on Monday, and the virus transmission rate is now 1.15, up from the 1.12 on Monday. 

Officials reported seven new deaths, the same as reported on Sept. 21, bringing the total to 14,291. The number of probable deaths remains at 1,791.

Hospitals reported 459 patients, including 90 critical care patients and 31 ventilators in use last night, an increase from the 349 patients, 87 in critical care and 36 on Sunday night. 

Essex County health officials reported 24 new cases, bringing the total to 20,862. The number of deaths remained the same from Sept. 22 to Sept. 23 at 1,898. 

Montclair health officials reported on Sept. 23 that the number of cases increased by four, from 553 to 557, and the number of deaths remained at 57. 

COVID-19 tracking app

This summer, the Department of Health began piloting an exposure notification app for phones. Persichilli announced that the pilot program ends this week, and the developers will make fixes to the app, based on feedback, before the app is released to the general public.  

The three participating colleges in the pilot are Montclair State University, Passaic County College and Stockton University, and 130 individuals are participating.

The app can notify someone if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and give them instructions on what to do afterward for testing and health care. The app does not collect personal data, Persichilli said.