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Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli discusses the increase in numbers on Oct. 15.

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Cases of COVID-19 throughout the state have continued to break over 900, with officials reporting 973 new cases today. 

Although slightly lower than the 1,301 new cases reported on Oct. 8 — the highest since May — Tuesday’s number was at 993. 

Cases are also rising in Essex County and Montclair.

Montclair reported five new cases today, nine new cases yesterday and five on Tuesday, now totaling 598. Officials would not comment further on the cases.

Gov. Phil Murphy pointed to Bergen, Essex and Ocean counties as hotspots, each reporting over 100 cases today, but said that the entire state is seeing an increase with a 4.3 percent positivity rate. On Oct. 8, the positivity rate was at 3.69. The rate of transmission has dipped slightly from 1.22 on Oct. 8 to 1.16 today.

Hospitalizations have continued to rise over the week, as well. Last night, hospitals reported 733 patients with COVID-related symptoms, with 178 in ICU and 60 on ventilators. On Monday night, hospitals reported 649 patients, with 160 in intensive care and 58 on ventilators.

With six new deaths reported today, the state death toll is now at 14,408, with another 1,789 recorded as probable.  

Today, Essex County reported 112 new cases, rising from the 92 cases reported on Tuesday. The total number is now 22,112 and the death toll 1,904. 

The death toll in Montclair remains at 57.

Twenty -two schools have reported outbreaks with 83 people testing positive for COVID-19 related to the schools.

INDOOR GATHERINGS

Health officials said that indoor household gatherings are an increasing source of spread of the virus as people have a tendency to let their guard down during smaller gatherings. The 

“People struggle that family and friends can give this to them,” said state police superintendent Col. Pat Callahan.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli pointed to a Centers for Diseases Control study of a family gathering in which several extended family members stayed in a house for several weeks and one adolescent spread the virus to 11 family members.

“It reminds us that even when with family members, we must adhere to guidelines to keep our loved ones safe,” said Persichilli.

She noted CDC warnings for social gatherings as we move into the holiday season:

  • Family and friends should consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate when considering whether to host or attend a holiday celebration. 
  • Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose more risk than those with good ventilation, such as those with open windows or doors.
  • Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. 
  • Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area.
  • Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, hand washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventative behaviors.

Persichilli recommended the following if hosting:

  • Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible. For indoor events, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces. Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather.
  • Host activities with only people from your local area as much as possible.
  • Limit numbers of attendees as much as possible.

UTILITY PAYMENT EXTENSION

As the moratorium preventing electric, gas and water shutoffs was due to expire today, Murphy expanded the moratorium until March 15, 2021. Utilities are expected to offer residential and commercial customers a flexible and extended Deferred Payment Agreement of at least 12 months and up to 24 months. But Murphy advised residents that they should pay what they can as they will eventually have to pay the balance, or to investigate if they qualify for utility assistance.

The moratorium also addressed internet connection cutoffs, expanding that to Nov. 15, and until March 15, 2021 for families with school-age children dependent on internet connections for schooling. 

UNEMPLOYMENT

For the week ending Oct. 10, 29,029 individuals filed new unemployment claims, a 23 percent increase from the prior week, and the largest weekly total in 12 weeks.

The department has distributed $16.5 billion in unemployment benefits since mid-March, including $278 million last week alone. The average worker has received $11,960 in benefits.

Of the 1.68 million who have applied for benefits since mid-March, 1.44 million have met the monetary requirements, and 96 percent of those have received payment.

Next week, unemployed residents should begin to receive the FEMA Lost Wages Assistance payments. The federal program will pay supplemental benefits to workers eligible for at least $100 in unemployment benefits during the weeks ending Aug. 1 through Sept. 5 for a COVID-19 related reason. The benefit is $300 per week for up to six weeks, for a maximum payment of $1,800 and will be period in one lump sum.