Gov. Phil Murphy, in his first appearance leading the daily coronavirus update, offered a number of startling statements Friday that indicate the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey.
Included in his statements:
There are 21 new presumptive coronavirus cases in the state, increasing the total to 50.
There were limited details on the cases. In fact, state officials were not aware of the location of six of them. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the others were from Monmouth (three), Bergen (two), Essex (two), Hudson (two), Middlesex (two), Burlington (one), Mercer (one), Ocean (one) and Passaic (one) counties.
These numbers will grow, Persichilli said.
“We have expected a surge. At this point, we’ve actually expected more numbers than we actually have. I’ve been saying for a week now, ‘Expect this to increase, it will increase substantially.’ This is just the way we’re seeing it throughout the nation.”
That growth could come as soon as Saturday’s briefing. Persichilli said 80 people are scheduled to be tested at state labs. She said state officials are not aware of how many are being tested at commercial labs.
Murphy said state officials have been working with school districts on extended closure plans to prepare for a potential statewide closure. He said a statewide shutdown would come in a matter of days. Doing so, he said, is not as easy as it sounds.
“Each district and community has their own set of challenges and realities, and we will be guided not just by public health needs, but also ensuring the individual needs of those districts are being met,” he said. “We must take into account the significant educational and socioeconomic impacts which occur when schools are closed for extended periods. We need to ensure solutions to mitigate the impacts of a statewide closure before such a declaration.
“We must ensure that we have plans for a child’s well-being, food security and remote learning as we close down our schools.”
The day of closure, however, is coming soon.
“For some districts, that time is now,” Murphy said. “For others, we are working around the clock to ensure that when their time comes — and it is a when and not an if — they will be prepared to provide all critical services for their communities.”
Health care equipment help
Murphy said the state received word Thursday night from the federal Department of Health and Human Services that, in the coming days, a shipment of medical supplies will be arriving in New Jersey for its front-line public-health responders — including more than 84,000 N95 respirators, 200,000 surgical face masks and 38,000 face shields, among other needed items.
“We hope this is the first of what will be several deliveries,” he said.
Murphy said his administration has applied to the federal Department of Transportation for the necessary waiver to allow the trucking industry to get the flexibility it needs to keep supplies rolling to market.
“We know that cleaning supplies, water, groceries and many other essentials — including baby formula — need immediate restock both here in New Jersey and throughout our region,” he said. “Many of these warehouses are in New Jersey, and we must do all we can to ensure an uninterrupted supply chain.”
The good news, Murphy said, is that New Jersey has more warehouse space than any other state in the country. The supplies are here, he said.
Murphy said the Board of Public Utilities has confirmed that, in cooperation with the state’s utility companies, all utility shut-off orders have been voluntarily and universally suspended for the time-being.
This is for all gas, electric and water services.
MVC, REAL ID
Murphy said all residents will have a two-month extension to renew their driver’s license, auto registration or vehicle inspection. In other words, those due on March 31 are now due at the end of May.
Murphy also said he wrote the federal government requesting a nationwide extension of the REAL ID deadline.
Help for the needy
Murphy said the state Department of Human Services has a been in contact with the federal government to seek a waiver that would allow SNAP recipients an additional one-half month’s worth of benefits, so families can stock up on food and other supplies.
The state also is working to receive federal waivers to ensure that schoolchildren in districts impacted by closures retain access to a healthy lunch.
Murphy said Atlantic City is open — but acknowledges his suggested limit of 250 people in a gathering will impact the ability to do shows and concerts.
“There’s no plan that I’m aware of that the casions are going to shut down,” he said.
“This assumes everybody does what they should do — stands 6 feet apart, cough into your sleeve, wash your hands with soap, don’t go if you don’t feel well, particularly if you have a temperature — assuming you do all those things, when you have that amount of people spread over that wide a space on these floors, that doesn’t trip your capacity limits.”
Murphy said the state is taking all necessary precautions and said the people of New Jersey will get through this together. But, he said, he understands it will not be easy.
“The anxiety is real; we understand that,” he said. “We not only appreciate it, we deeply respect it. We will get through this crisis as one New Jersey family. We will not be unscathed … (but) when we do, will we be stronger than ever before.”