Confirmed COVID-19 cases in NJ rise to 29,895, another 91 Mercer County residents test positive

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has ordered that all of the flags in the state be lowered to half staff until further notice in memory of residents who have died as a result of complications from COVID-19. The governor said it is a small gesture to honor the memories of all of the residents the state has lost, as well as a way to acknowledge the totality of the loss for New Jersey.

“This is one of the greatest tragedies to ever hit our state and our nation, and we must have a constant, visible memorial of the tremendous personal toll COVID-19 is having on our communities,” Murphy said at his daily press briefing in Trenton on Friday. “Since families at this time cannot hold funerals for loved ones, this is a small way we can make sure their loss is not forgotten. We can also honor these families and the memories of their loved ones by doing all we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing.”

Murphy reported that the state received 4,372 positive test results from labs on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Jersey to 29,895. Officials have confirmed that another 113 residents have died as a result of complications from COVID-19 in the past few days, bringing the total COVID-19 death toll in New Jersey to 646 deaths.

Deaths included James Brown, the 48-year-old principal of Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell, who leaves behind a wife and three children, and jazz guitarist John “Buckey” Pizzarell, who was 94.

Officials said another resident of Mercer County has died as a result of complications from COVID-19, bring the county total to five deaths. New deaths in neighboring New Jersey counties are as follows: Ten deaths in Monmouth, eight in Middlesex, six in Somerset, and one in Burlington.

The state has received positive COVID-19 test results for another 91 Mercer County residents. Mercer County had a total of 484 confirmed positive cases as of Friday afternoon. Princeton now has a total of 37 confirmed cases. The municipal COVID website mistakenly has only 31 cases listed for Princeton as of Friday evening.

Officials reported another 309 confirmed cases in Middlesex County on Friday, 256 more confirmed cases in Monmouth County, 77 new cases in Somerset County, 73 new cases in Burlington County, and 16 new cases in Hunterdon County.

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said three more residents from long-term care facilities in the state have died. At least 132 of the 375 long-term care facilities in the state have at least one positive COVID-19 resident, she said.

About 34 percent of the people who have died in the state as a result of COVID-19 had underliying conditions. Persichilli said people with chronic illnesses who contract the virus have higher hospitalization rates. In addition to diabetes, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease, smoking and vaping have been linked to putting people at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, Persichilli said.

The state has received 64,827 COVID-19 test results from labs so far, and 27,219 of those tests were positive, for a total positivity rate of 41.99 percent, Persichilli said.

She also reported that 3,016 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state are currently hospitalized. The figure represents 12 percent of the total number of hospitalizations in the state for all health issues. Forty-one percent of the patients who have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 complications, or 1,227 people, are on ventilators, she said.

Persichilli and Murphy both urged residents to observe Passover and Easter at home and abide by the state ban on social gatherings.

“We know it is difficult and it is maybe disappointing, but it is imperative to limit face-to-face interaction in an effort to slow the spread of this virus. We hope our faith leaders will reach out to members of congregations and remind them that they should not be gathering for religious services or meals until the ban is lifted,” Persichilli said.

“I cannot think of another time when we need each other more. We’re encouraging faith leaders to inform congregations of any live stream or televised services available and to provide people with suggestions about how to create meaningful celebrations at home without gathering with others,” she said. “We must all take this seriously. Social distancing is the only tool in our tool kit to protect your health and the health of your loved ones.”

Murphy addressed the issue of wearing masks, and said people can wear bandanas, scarves, or a cloth covering over their mouths and noses when they are in public.

“That is not in any way a replacement for social distancing in terms of flattening the curve. Again if you want to go ahead and do it, no issue. But don’t assume that it makes you superman or superwoman and that you can ignore the social distancing we are pounding the table on. Keep a minimum of six feet from anybody else at all times,” Murphy said.

“If you do choose to cover your face, please do not use an N95 or medical grade mask until we are confident we have adequate supplies for our heroic frontline healthcare workers and first responders and folks in essential retail operations, or people driving a bus, or taking care of our rail service, or people somewhere in the supply chain,” Murphy said. “We have to, all of us, avoid using up those precious supplies. We need to save each and every single one of these for our frontline responders. Social distancing trumps anything else.”

Murphy said social distancing is our best offense, our best defense, and our best surrogate for a vaccine.

“A face covering is more about you. If you are asymptomatic, you are lowering your chances of spreading the virus to others. But it is not a fail-safe measure to prevent you from getting sick,” he said.

Murphy said residents should keep a safe distance from other of a minimum of six feet at all times, including when people walk, run or hike. He also said people should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cough or sneeze into an elbow, and stay indoors as much as possible. “I know I sound like a broken record on this, but we all know social distancing works,” he said.

“There is no silver bullet that we can load to make this go away overnight,” Murphy said. “This is a war. Wars like this are not won in one day, or a month, or even a few months.”

Officials saif the drive-thru testing center at the PNC Arts Center in Holmel will be open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for symptomatic health care workers and public safety first responders only.

Murphy said he wishes the state could test every resident, but that there has been a shortage of supplies since the beginning of the crisis. “This is the hand we’ve been dealt,” he said. “I would love to have enough stuff to test everyone.”

Murphy said some ventilators the state received from the federal stockpile were broken. Fourteen ventilators at two different hospitals were missing parts or were malfunctioning. Staff members were able to repair eight of them. The state is hiring an outside company to assist with assessing and repairing broken ventilators.

The New Jersey Department of Labor processed 33,0000 unemployment insurance claims in one day this week, Murphy said. He called on residents to be patient and keep trying to apply for benefits. “No one will be denied one penny they deserve,” he said. He also called on residents to be patient and understanding once they are able to talk to staff members about their claims.

Friday morning at 9 a.m., the application portal for small businesses with 10 employees or less to apply for grants from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority opened. The NJEDA has a pool of $5 million for those grants. By 10:16 a.m., the state had received 10,000 applications. By 1:30 p.m., the state had received 16,500 applications. The state can offer grants to between 1,000 and 2,000 small businesses from that pool of money, officials said. Awards will be made early next week and electronic transfers will be made by the end of the week, officials said.