Why Murphy hasn’t been tested — and why N.J. isn’t building COVID-19 hospitals

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Mar 21, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Saturday that he has not been tested for coronavirus. And he doesn’t plan on getting tested. Unless he develops symptoms.

“I’m in the category of the folks that we’re actually discouraging from being tested,” he said during his daily coronavirus briefing call. “And I hope it stays that way. We need folks to show up to be tested who are symptomatic.”

Murphy reiterated that the FEMA-assisted site at Bergen Community College remains open. And that a Federal Emergency Management Agency-assisted site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel will open Monday.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli stressed that only people showing symptoms should be tested. She also said health care workers would be a priority.

“We cannot have a group of health care workers scared to come to work,” she said. “But, do remember, any one of us can test negative on Monday and, five days later, be positive. The goal of testing is, people who should be tested must be tested. And they’re the symptomatic individuals who fulfill the criteria.”

A few notes from Murphy’s daily briefing:

Adding beds, hospitals

Persichilli reiterated that the state is looking for more beds and is hoping to open closed wings of hospitals — if not closed hospitals — in an effort to prepare for the coming number of patients.

She went out of her way to indicate that the state is not building facilities specifically for coronavirus patients.

“I want the public to understand, we are not developing COVID-19 hospitals,” she said. “Every hospital in New Jersey is expected to and will be caring for COVID-19 patients — or, I should say, patients who have COVID-19.”

Perschilli said she thinks the state can handle a moderate increase: “If it goes to a more significant increase, we need to be able to adjust critical care.”

More beds, Persichilli said, is not her top concern.

“I’m more concerned, quite frankly, with the availability of the workforce and the availability of ventilators,” she said.

Mortgage/rent relief

Murphy said he is concerned about upcoming mortgage and rent payments. And he knows his administration will have to tackle the issue soon.

“I would plead with people in the landlord community to please give our people a break here,” he said. “We probably should give more guidance about what that means, but this is not the time to jam people.”

Murphy noted that unemployment insurance applications are exploding in the state.

Crossing the Hudson

Murphy noted residents are allowed to leave the state. But only if they have a reason that is essential to the coronavirus fight.

“Just make sure, if you’re crossing the Hudson, it is for a reason,” he said. “Crossing the Hudson to hang out with people in New York City is not a good reason.”

The sign that things are changing

Persichilli said the state will continuously monitor positive cases and admissions to hospitals as two indicators of the strength of the spread. But she continues to stress that we are just at the start of an outbreak that will hit many people. How severe is what to watch.

“We expect a lot of members of the public to get coronavirus,” she said. “We expect 80-85% are moderate to mild symptoms. Stay at home, monitor yourself. Fifteen percent will probably need to be admitted to hospital. And 5% will need critical care.”

She said the mortality rate is hanging around 1%.

“We would hate for it to climb to 3%, but that could happen, she said. “We’ll look at those statistics on a regular basis. It’s the people needing care. It’s not the actual incidents, because we think it’s going to be significantly widespread. It’s the people that need care, and, as that smooths out, I think we can relax a bit.”

That day, however, isn’t coming anytime soon.

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