New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy paused for a moment of silence on Saturday afternoon after announcing that more 200 more residents of the state have died as a result of complications from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 846 residents.
“Let me put this in a proper yet very sobering context,”Murphy said. “We have now lost nearly 100 more of our fellow New Jerseians to COVID-19 than we did in the Sept. 11 attacks. Please let that sink in for a moment. This pandemic is writing one of the greatest tragedies in our state’s history. Just as we have committed to never forget those lost on 9/11, we must commit to never forgetting those we are losing to this pandemic.”
Eight more residents of Mercer County have died as a result of complications from COVID-19. A total of thirteen residents of the county have died so far.
Murphy expressed his sympathies for all of the loved ones of people who have died as a result of COVID-19 and acknowledged how difficult it is for families to not be able to gather for a funeral.
“I know that staying apart is really hard, whether it be for a funeral or a religious rite that we long to attend. But right now we have no choice. It is what we need to do. It is what we must do,” Murphy said, urging people to stay home on Palm Sunday and Passover and not hold religious services or have social gatherings.
“I know it’s a challenge, but it is a challenge we are more than up to meeting. Keep practicing your social distancing,” Murphy said. “By being apart, we are actually working together.”
He also expressed his sympathies for people who have lost their jobs. Officials said the first week of the crisis, the New Jersey Department of Labor saw a 1,600-percent increase in the number of unemployment insurance claims. “I know there are a lot of folks clamoring to make a connection online or on the telephone to get unemployment insurance. Everybody, please bear with us,” Murphy said. “People are doing everything they can to respond to calls. Just know that it’s an unprecedented level. You won’t lose one penny of support if it takes a little longer. I promise you that.”
Murphy reported that the state has received another 4,331 positive COVID-19 test results over the past 24 hours, bringing the New Jersey total to 34,124 positive results. The state has received another 89 positive test results for Mercer County residents, bringing the county total to 586 cases.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said officials predicted that the surge in the northern part of the state would begin te second week of April and last through the end of the month and possibly into early May. “We believe part of the surge is just happening,” she said, noting that nine hospitals in the northern part of the state could not handle patient loads on Friday night. “This was primarily due to staffing issues and critical care bed capacity,” she said. “We need volunteers to assist us in this effort.”
Healthcare professionals who want to help out during the crisis can sign up online at covid19.nj.gov/volunteer. Persichilli said a crisis alert for more volunteers would be sent out later Saturday. Hospitals in the state now have more than 4,000 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, and another 2,000 hospital patients in the state are waiting for test results. She said 1,494 COVID-19 patients are in critical care, and 1,263 patients are on ventilators.
Persichilli said nine more residents of long-term care facilities in the state have died as a result of COVID-19. She said 148 of the 375 long-term care facilities in the state are reporting at least one COVID-19 case, and she acknowledged the growing concern of family members who have loved ones in long-term care facilities.
“Family members have expressed growing concern about the lack of communication in some facilities when there is a resident who has been confirmed to have COVID-19,” she said. “Families are frustrated that they can’t get someone on the phone in these facilities and they want to know if there is an outbreak in the facility in which their loved one is a resident.”
Persichilli said state officials sent a letter to long-term care facilities on March 6 reminding them of their responsibility under the law to have an outbreak response plan that includes clear policies for the notification of residents, their families, visitors, and staff members when at least one COVID-19 case has been confirmed for a resident or staff member at the facility. Persichili said that she will be sending a follow-up notification to all long-term care facilities Saturday with guidance for notifying people avbout COVID-19 cases at the facilities. Residents and staff members must be informed in person and in writing. Facilities can notify family members and guardians about COVID-19 cases by phone or email, but must follow up in writing within three days. Persichilli said if long-term care facilities do not notify the state by Monday that they are following the guidelines, the state will publicly release the names of the facilities that have at least one COVID-19 case.
Murphy also urged residents of the state to remain at their primary residences. Counties and municipalities have been given the authority by the state to ban rentals to seasonal tenants to stop people from hotspot areas from spreading the virus as they try to relocate to other areas like the shore.
The state has asked the federal government for 1,650 more ventilators, Murphy said. State officials are working with all hospitals to rapidly and significantly increase bed capacity, he said. The state’s first field medical station will open at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus on Monday. A second field hospital is slated to open at the expo center in Edison by April 8. The state is also working to expand hospital bed capacity by using hotels and dorms, particularly in hotspot areas and near hospitals that are reaching capacity, Murphy said.
“This is an enormous effort to bring thousands of new beds online,” Murphy said. “At every level, this is a data-driven, moneyball process. We know where we expect our numbers to go in the coming weeks, and we have to do the difficult things to prepare for that.”
Federal authorities broke up a significant personal protective equipment hoarding situation in Brooklyn and seized hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment this week. Murphy said New Jersey will be one of the beneficiaries of the raid. The state will receive more than 70,000 N95 masks and 5,000 gloves.
Persichilli said there is a growing body of evidence that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, so the CDC is recommending using a simple cloth covering that covers the nose and the mouth.
“A face covering lowers your chance of spreading the virus to others, but it is not a fail-safe measure to prevent you from getting sick. If you wear a mask, you are protecting others, and if others wear masks, they are protecting you. The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks. They are not medical grade N95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders who are caring for the sick,” Persichilli said.
“Social distancing is by far our best preventative measure. Wearing a simple cloth face covering when you are out is not in any way a replacement for social distancing to flatten the curve,” she said. “You must continue to keep at least 6-feet distance apart from others. Keep regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Practice safe respiratory hygiene, and if you feel under the weather, even if you are convinced it is just your allergies acting up, stay indoors away from others.”
Officials said the statewide COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at Bergen County Community College in Paramus will be open on Sunday starting at 8 a.m. Residents of the state must present identification and be symptomatic.