Governor orders new public transit and food pick-up restrictions as COVID-19 death toll in NJ climbs above 2,000

Shoppers wear paper masks over their nose and mouth as they stock up on food and supplies at a BJ’s warehouse club. Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

Starting Monday at 8 p.m., commuters who ride trains, light rail lines, and private buses in New Jersey must wear face coverings. All public transit workers and bus operators in the state must also wear face coverings and gloves. Train and private bus carriers, including NJ Transit, must also cut capacity on trains and buses to 50 percent of the maximum.

If you go to a restaurant or bar to pick up a carry-out order, you will also be required to wear a mask starting Monday night. Workers in restaurants and bars who are serving carry-out or doing deliveries must also wear masks and gloves, which employers will be required to provide.

At his daily press briefing Saturday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced the new restrictions to further slow the spread of COVID-19.

Murphy stressed that masks don’t replace social distancing, and said the masks should not be medical-grade masks, but instead should be bandanas, scarves, or fabric masks. “A face covering does not mean a medical-grade mask,” he said. “We need to keep those for our first responders and healthcare workers.”

Murphy said he realizes the pandemic is causing a great deal of anxiety for residents, and that the restrictions he has been enacting are seen by some as an inconvenience. He acknowledged that the new restrictions will be seen by some as adding just another inconvenience to people’s daily lives in the state.

Gov. PHil Murphy at his Saturday press briefing.

“What would really be inconvenient is if you ended up in the hospital with COVID-19, or inadvertently infected a family member — maybe from another generation — with the virus, unwittingly, and if you did that just because you didn’t take to heart the need to take every precaution,” Murphy said.

Officials announced that the state has received another 3,599 positive COVID-19 test results, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Jersey to 58,151.

“We expect the next two to three weeks to be especially stressful and difficult for our hospitals and our long-term care facilities,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

She reviewed the state’s plan to manage healthcare resources using hospitals, former hospitals that have been reopened, field hospitals, the USNS Comfort, hotels, and student dorms. Twenty patients are at the field hospital at the Meadowlands and another 50 are expected to arrive there Saturday night. Twenty patients will be arriving at the Edison field hospital Saturday night, and a third field hospital will open in Atlantic City next week, she said.

Officials have also worked out a statewide plan for long-term care facilities. Persichilli said facilities that can keep patients separated by floors or wings based on their COVID-19 status will be allowed to admit new patients, but facilities that are struggling to be able to do so will not be allowed to accept new residents, and facilities that do not have any COVID-19 positive residents will not be allowed to admit new residents.

Marty Fox

Another 251 residents of the state have died as a result of complications from COVID-19, bringing the state total to 2,183 deaths. Deaths included Marty Fox, 95, of Millburn. Fox was a lawyer who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. He later worked on the front lines of the civil rights battle in the United States, traveling down to Flordia during the summer of 1963 as a pro bono lawyer to represent members of the St. Augustine civil rights movement. In addition to numerous civic activities in New Jersey, Fox was appointed by two governors to serve on the state school board. “He never slowed down,” Murphy said.

Persichilli reviewed COVID-19 test and death data, and reported that 160 staff members and 80 patients at the state’s four psychiatric facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, and five patients have died as a result of complications from the virus.

Fifteen more residents of long-term care facilities in the state have died, and Persichilli said there is at least one COVID-19 positive resident in 305 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities.

For COVID-19 related deaths in the state overall, some data is still being reviewed, but so far 52 percent of residents who have died as a result of complications from COVID-19 were white, 22 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, six percent were Asian, and three percent identified as other such as Pacific Islander.

Officials reported that as of 10 p.m. on Friday, 7,618 patients in New Jersey hospitals either tested positive for COVID-19 or had symptoms, and 1,746 of those patients were in intensive care, with 1,650 patients in the state on ventilators. Over a 24-hour period, 682 patients left hospitals to go to other step-down facilities or to go home. “We need to keep remembering that,” Murphy said of the residents who have recovered. “It should give us hope, especially in this season when our spiritual lives are filled with a sense of renewal.”

He once again urged residents to not let up when it comes to staying home and practicing social distancing. He displayed a heat map of New Jersey that indicates that the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading is slowing. The latest hotspots are a few counties in the south. Mercer County shifted from orange to yellow on Saturday, meaning the rate at which the virus is spreading is slowing down.

“We are slowing the rate by which new cases are doubling,” Murphy said. “The lighter each county gets, the more we are flattening the curve. I remain confident that the course we are on is the right one, and if we all continue with what we need to do — keeping social distance, wearing a face covering, otherwise staying home, we will win this war. Wars are not won overnight or by set dates. They are won by perseverance, and together we are doing that hard work.”

Murphy said the war is being fought on two fronts. The first front is being fought by ordinary citizens who are staying home and practicing social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19. The second front is being fought by healthcare workers on the front lines.

“We are not in the end zone folks,” Murphy said. “We cannot spike any footballs…If we all do our part we will beat this virus.”

On Friday, 78 ambulances and EMS squads from states across the country carrying 139 EMTs and 56 paramedics came to assist local teams in New Jersey.

“These folks came from places including California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland, among other states,” Murphy said. “Last night they were already on the streets across our state, including in Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, East Orange, and New Brunswick. They know how hard our EMS squads are working and how overloaded many are, and they came in mutual aid and support. This is a true brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Ambulances and EMTs from other states arrived in NJ on Friday.

Murphy expressed his gratitude to all of the people who have stepped up to volunteer or donate equipment in New Jersey’s hour of need. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts — from across the country and around the world — we are moved by the generosity of many,” he said.

He highlighted hometown heroes and business owners who are supporting residents in the state or donating equipment, including David Place, a landlord who has told all of 12 of his tenants they can live in their homes rent-free for three months.

“The spirit of community is evident all across the state, even in the face of anxiety and uncertainty. We’re coming together because we know that when we do, we will get ourselves through this as one. It’s as good a way to think of this Easter weekend as any, and it’s the way I will be celebrating Easter tomorrow with my family,” Murphy said.

“Yesterday was Good Friday. But the first Good Friday, by the way, wasn’t very good. It was filled with pain, doubt, and fear. But from that day came our faith in rebirth for those who celebrate Easter, and our faith in rebirth in the resurrection of life, of healing, of resilience, and of hope and happiness,” Murphy said. “Anxiety and fear and sadness may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning. We are going to get to the better morning. We are going to get there together. But to get to it, we have to keep doing everything we can to flatten the curve, get ahead of this virus, and stay ahead of it.”

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