Perschilli: Risk of contracting COVID-19 still remains low despite rising numbers

Murphy orders closures of all indoor malls; first FEMA test center still days away

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Mar 17, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said New Jersey added 89 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday — the second straight day at least 80 cases increased a total that now equals 267. She also said community spread has occurred in some areas.

Despite this, Persichilli said the risk to contract COVID-19 still remains low if the proper precautions are taken.

“Over the past few days, New Jersey has seen a significant increase in the volume of cases, concentrated in the northeastern portion of the state,” she said. “Some of these cases have been directly linked to previously confirmed cases, and there are some that do not have any linkages. This is an indication that community transmission is occurring.”

Persichilli, speaking at the state’s daily briefing, said this is not a cause for panic.

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 in these areas is slightly higher than it is in areas of the state where case counts are still limited,” she said. “However, the risk overall still remains low when you follow social distancing, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.

“The potential public health posed by COVID-19 is high both globally in the United States and now in New Jersey. Individual risk is dependent on exposure. Under certain circumstances, as we begin to see increased community spread, certain people will have increased risk of infection. For example, people in communities where ongoing spread of the virus has been reported at elevated levels. Yet, the overall risk of exposure still remains relatively low.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said the increased totals are the result of a number of things — including the fact that far more tests are being conducted each day.

Murphy said he is not panicking, either, but he is adding more restrictions to encourage social distancing. On Tuesday, he ordered the closure — until further notice — of all indoor retail shopping malls, amusement parks and amusement centers throughout the state.

Murphy said he came to the conclusion overnight that this ban should have been included with Monday’s restrictions. He pointed out, however, that restaurants that are part of a mall are still allowed to remain open — but for takeout or delivery only.

Other items from the briefing included:

  • Update on FEMA testing centers: State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said he met with a Federal Emergency Management Agency-deployed incident management assistance team Tuesday morning to discuss opening test centers at Bergen Community College in Paramus and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel in Monmouth County. Callahan said truckloads of necessary supplies for the sites left Georgia and Indiana on Tuesday. He anticipates they will arrive Wednesday. He hopes that at least one of the sites will begin operating this week. The sites, he said, are expected to have 2,500 testing kits plus the personal protection equipment required to give them each week.
  • Murphy on staying off the roads after 8 p.m.: “First, I thank everyone who has taken to heart the need to stay in after 8 p.m.,” he said. “We need all New Jerseyans to follow your lead. Binge-watch something. Play a game with your family. Call family members to make sure they are doing OK. But, please, just stay in after 8 p.m. We urge you to do this so that essential personnel can attend to their jobs. For example, we must allow truck drivers to be able to make deliveries for restocking our grocery stores or getting supplies to our front-line health care responders. Truckers are essential workers in our response.”
  • Murphy on instituting statewide lockdown: “We will flatten this curve, and, if we’re not flattening this curve, we’ll take more aggressive action to flattened it, period,” he said. Murphy said the consecutive days of high numbers is not necessarily a sign that steps are not working. “I would say it’s too early to tell if we’re flattening it,” he said. “These numbers are going to go up before they go down. So, just because they are going up doesn’t mean that we’re concluding we’re not flattening the curve; likewise, it doesn’t mean that we’re taking steps off the table.”

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: