New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on Thursday that schools will remain closed across the state through at least May 15.
“There is nobody who wants to open the schools more than I do. I can’t do that right now, but I remain hopeful that we can. We cannot be guided by emotion. We need to be guided by where the facts on the ground — science and public health — take us, and that means it will not be safe to open our schools or start sports back up for at least another four weeks,” Murphy said.
“I know this is hard. It’s hard on all of us. But if we all keep pulling and working together, I hope it will put me in a position in a month’s time to make a different announcement,” he said. “There is no doubt we are saving lives and we must maintain the course.”
Murphy announced that the state has received positive COVID-19 test results for another 4,391 residents, bringing the statewide total for confirmed cases to 75,317.
Another 362 residents of New Jersey have died as a result of complications from COVID-19, bringing the state death toll to 3,518 people. Deaths included Michael Burke of Little Falls, who had served as a volunteer firefighter in his community for 48 years, and Solomon David, a 41-year-old EMT who worked in the wound care center at St. Barnabas Medical Center, coached youth basketball, and owned his own clothing company.
The governor also spoke about the death of Margit Feldman, 90, who survived Auschwitz as a forced laborer and was liberated from the Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp 75 years ago. Feldman was a founding member of the New Jersey Holocaust Education Commission.
“May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her,” Murphy said, asking for prayers for Feldman’s husband, who is battling COVID-19 in a hospital in Morristown.
Murphy noted that the state has lost more lives to COVID-19 than the total number of New Jersey lives lost in World War I.
“This is the ultimate toll of COVID-19,” Murphy said of all the deaths. “All of a sudden, social distancing doesn’t seem like such an inconvenience if we don’t have to keep mourning so many blessed souls,” he said. “It remains the key to us flattening the curve and eventually coming down the other side of it to the point where we can responsibly begin the process of reopening our state.”
Murphy expressed anger regarding reports about how the Andover Subacute and Rehab Center One and Two in Sussex County has handled the COVID-19 crisis, including how the facility has handled deaths, stacking up bodies of residents in rooms at the facility.
“I’m outraged that bodies of the dead were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue at the facility,” Murphy said. “New Jersians living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion, and dignity. We can and must do better.”
The facility is the largest long-term care facility in the state. New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that on Saturday, the state was notified that the facility was in need of body bags for dead residents. The state received a report that 28 bodies were being stored in the facility. She said the local health department immediately notified the local health officer, who visited the facility at 2 a.m. Sunday and reported back that the facility had the appropriate staffing levels and protective equipment. Persichilli said that as of April 15, 19 residents in one building at the site have tested positive for COVID-19, two are hospitalized, 34 residents have flu-like symptoms, and seven residents have died since April 3, with five of the deaths tied to COVID-19. Four staff members have flu-like symptoms. In the second building at the site, 84 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 99 other residents have respiratory symptoms, while 48 staff members have flu-like symptoms. There have been 28 deaths at the building since March 30, and 14 of those deaths have been connected with COVID-19, Persichilli said.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s office will be investigating the matter and will conduct a review of all long-term care facilities that have experienced a disproportionate number of deaths during the COVID-19 outbreak, Murphy said. More than 8,209 COVID-19 cases have been reported at long-term care facilities.
Murphy said residents’ efforts to practice social distancing are working but the state is not home yet, and that if people let up now, the spread of the virus could rapidly increase. “We cannot have a spike. That would be potentially disastrous for our healthcare system and workers and would mean countless more deaths,” Murphy said, adding that 3,518 deaths is already 3,518 too many.
” And we know we are going to lose more of our blessed residents. How many more depends on you and we maintaining our practice of social distancing, of staying at home,” Murphy said. “Please continue doing just that. It is working. Together we will break the back of the curve, the virus, bring it down as far as we can, as close to zero, and begin responsibly to get back on our feet.”
Officials reported that as of 10 p.m. Wednesday, 8,224 people in the state were hospitalized as a result of complications from COVID-19, with 1,880 of those people in intensive care units, and 1,645 people on ventilators. Forty-six patients are at a field medical station. A total of 802 COVID-19 patients were discharged from New Jersey hospitals over a 24-hour period. Persichilli said the daily growth rate for patient admissions was flat.
Murphy thanked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for sending 100 ventilators to New Jersey, and announced that he is appointing Dr. Richard Besser and former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to be the state’s representatives to a multi-state coalition council.
He also announced that the board of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Authority is suspending all rent increases for 36,000 properties for low and moderate-income renters across the state.
Murphy said a record 429,000 residents in the state are receiving unemployment benefits. The number of new unemployment claims over the past week has decreased by a third compared with the previous week. The New Jersey Department of Labor is working to increase its capacity to process claims, he said.
The Bergen County Community College CIVID-19 testing site will be open Friday starting at 8 a.m., and the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel will be open Monday at 8 a.m. Both sites will be open until 500 tests are administered. Residents of the state must show proof of residency and have symptoms.
Persichilli said the New Jersey Department of Human Services had launched a mental health hotline at 866-202-HELP for residents who need help coping with stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
“It’s an opportunity to have a safe space to talk and get support and care during these challenging times,” Persichilli said.
Access at St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson has also created a free support helpline for the hearing impaired. The number is 973-870-0677. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.