Confirmed COVID-19 cases climb to 64,584 in NJ, governor bans internet and phone companies from shutting off service

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wears a mask at the start of his press briefing.

Governor Phil Murphy announced Monday that the state has received positive COVID-19 test results for another 3,219 residents, bringing the New Jersey total to 64,584 confirmed cases. The state has recorded another 93 deaths as a result of complications from COVID-19, bringing the New Jersey death toll to 2,443.

Murphy said COVID-19 cases increased in the state just four percent over a 24-hour period, which he said was an indication that the curve is flattening.

As of 10 p.m. Sunday, 7,781 people were hospitalized in the state as a result of complications from COVID-19, with 1,886 of the patients in intensive care units, and 1,611 patients on ventilators. A total of 556 COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals in the state over a 24-hour period.

NJ Transit Bus Driver
Philip Dover

Deaths over the past few days included the Rev. Dr. W. Louis McDowell, pastor of the Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Passaic; Paterson Police Officer Francesco Scorpo, 34, who leaves behind a wife and two sons, ages four and six months; and Philip Dover, a New Jersey Transit bus driver.

“Our hearts are heavy, yet they are also unbowed. We have to continue practicing our social distancing,” Murphy said at his Monday press briefing. “We are already weeks into this and certainly it isn’t any more fun. We have many more ahead of us. We simply cannot get complacent. We can’t let our vigilance slip.”

Murphy said citizens have been pleading with him to open the state back up again so businesses can reopen and kids can play sports and go back to school. He said state officials are working on plans but can’t reopen things until there is a healthcare recovery.

“Our job is to put the fire out in the house,” Murphy said. “We are still not there yet. While the curve is undeniably now flattening, it is still rising. We’ve got to hit that plateau and then bring it down aggressively on the other side. Stay home, and stay away from each other even when you are at home…We are right in the thick of it. We cannot take our foot off the gas…If we are overprepared, it would be the best mistake anyone made. If we stop doing what we are doing, COVID-19 could boomerang and bring about a worst-case scenario.”

Murphy announced that he was prohibiting internet service providers and phone companies from shutting off service in the state until 30 days after the public health emergency has ended. Service downgrades, reductions, and late fees will be prohibitied unless they are approved by the state’s Board of Public Utilities. Any service that was shut off after March 16 must be reconnected.

“People need to stay connected,” Murphy said, adding that most service providers voluntarily agreed not to cut off service last month. “Some providers loosely interpreted what it means. Now they need to get with the program,” he said, adding that internet service is vital for students and sick people who can use telemedicine services. “This is no time for anyone to have a connection to the world severed,” he said.

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said 14 percent of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across New Jersey were discharged over the 24-hour period that ended Sunday night at 10 p.m. On previous days, the discharge rate was 11 percent, she said. “We are slowly making progress discharging more people,” she said. “We are holding hospitalizations and critical care patients somewhat even.”

Seven hospitals were on divert status Sunday night, primarily because of critical care capacity. “We’re working with hospitals to determine which patients can safely be transferred,” Persichilli said, adding that officials have identified 100 nursing-home beds in the northern and central portions of the state for people who are in intensive care units who will need to be placed in nursing homes.

Newly recorded deaths in the state included 29 residents of long-term care facilities. Persichilli said 324 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities now have at least one COVID-19 case. About 10 percent of the long-term care population in the state, or 5,264 people, have tested positive for COVID-19. “We are making the assumption that COVID-19 is at most, if not all, of our nursing homes at this point,” Persichilli said.

There are three nursing homes for veterans in the state. In the nursing home in Paramus where 269 veterans live, 24 residents have died as a result of complications from COVID-19. In the nursing home in Menlo Park where 270 veterans live, 14 residents have died.

Persichilli reviewed statistics for all reported COVID-19 deaths in the state so far. Fewer than one percent of residents were between the ages of 18 and 29, 4.5 percent were between the ages of 30 and 49, 16.7 percent were between the ages of 50 and 64, 32.8 percent were between the ages of 65 to 79, and 45.5 percent were over 80. Fifty-eight percent of those who died were men and 42 percent were women. The racial breakdown: 51.2 white, 21.3 percent black, 18.6 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian 2.9 percent other. More than 57 percent of the New Jersey residents who died as a result of complications from COIVID-19 had cardiovascular disease, 33.9 percent had diabetes, 29.3 percent had other chronic diseases, 19.7 percent had chronic lung disease, 14.6 percent had chronic renal disease, 13.6 had a neurological disability, 11.8 percent had cancer, and six percent had no documented preexisting condition. Some of the residents had two or more preexisting conditions.

The state has received COVID-19 test results for about 118,000 residents so far, and 54,600 residents have tested positive, for a positivity rate of 46.22 percent.

Persichilli said the state has issued guidance to all hospitals about the allocation of critical care resources during a public health emergency in the event that demand outstrips supply. Fortunately, hospitals have not been faced with such decisions, officials said.

“All patients who are eligible for intensive care during ordinary times remain eligible. There is no exclusion based on age, disability or other factors,” Persichilli said. Under the policy, Persichilli said all patients are supposed to receive individualized assessments, and those assessments cannot be based on stereotypes, quality of life assessments, the judgment of a person’s worth based on a disability, race, religion, gender, place of residence, socioeconomic status, or health insurance status. Persichilli noted that because the state has taken a regional approach to address the crisis, no institution should have to be limiting access to critical care resources, including ventilators, when other institutions still have the capacity.

“Under this directive, there is no exclusion criteria, period. It’s an absolute statement. Individual assessments -will be done, and will not be a matter of judgment of a person’s worth,” Murphy said. “You can’t buy your way to salvation, and that’s the way it should be. There will be no discrimination of any kind. We will not allow that to happen.”

Officials reported that the new field hospital in Secaucus has 37 patients, and will have 62 patients by the end of the day. The field hospital in Edison had a soft opening on Friday. Only four patients were there as of Monday afternoon, but more will be admitted by the end of the day. The field hospital in Atlantic City will open next week.

Paramedics and EMTs from other states who arrived to work in New Jersey handled 500 calls, 286 transports, and 58 of calls for people who were in cardiac arrests over the weekend. The state has requested an additional 50 life support ambulances and 50 advanced-life support ambulances from FEMA. Officials said dispatchers around the state are receiving an unprecedented number of 911 calls.

Masks from the government of Taiwan.

The government of Taiwan delivered 100,000 N95 masks to the state this weekend, and 20,000 more are on their way. “We’re working every possible avenue to get resources,” Murphy said, thanking the Taiwanese government.

Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and governors of four other states in the region announced a partnership Monday to coordinate efforts to reopen and restart the economy. Murphy thanked the other governors for their spirit of teamwork and cooperation.

The statewide COVID-19 testing centers were closed Monday because of the bad weather. The Bergen County Community College testing center in Paramus will open at 8 a.m. on Tuesday for 500 tests, and the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel will be open Wednesday starting at 8 a.m. for 500 tests. You must be a New Jersey resident with proper identification and must have symptoms to get tested at the statewide drive-up testing centers.