New Jersey hit two more milestones Thursday — neither of which it wanted to reach. Both, however, were expected.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced 3,489 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total over 25,000 (at 25,590). Murphy also announced 182 more fatalities, bringing that total past the 500-person threshold (at 537).
Murphy noted the fatalities number may have jumped due to increased ways the count is made. In addition, Murphy said the announcement of fatalities does not necessarily come in real time.
As for the numbers, Hudson County (now 2,270 cases) and Union County (2,010) join Bergen (4,099) and Essex (2,617) as counites with more than 2,000 cases. Middlesex (1,766), Passaic (1,750) and Monmouth (1,458) counties are next in line.
Here are additional news and notes from Thursday’s briefing:
FEMA field hospitals
Murphy took a tour of the field hospital at the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus on Thursday morning, along with U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.). The hospital, which will begin taking patients Monday, is scheduled to be able to handle 250 patients, but Murphy hinted there could be more.
The patients, in theory, will not have COVID-19, but Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the staff will be able to handle such patients, which inevitably will surface. The site will be serviced primarily by health care workers who have signed up to volunteer.
The Meadowlands is the first of three such field medical stations in our state. A location at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison (which will be able to care for up to 500) is set to open April 8. A location at the Atlantic City Convention Center (which will be able to care for 250) is scheduled to open April 14.
UnitedHealthcare is dedicating two leaders — Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, senior vice president of UHC’s clinical redesign team, and Kathleen Stillo, the president and chief operating officer of clinical redesign — to help run the sites for the next 90 days.
Murphy announced he has signed an executive order formally authorizing State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan to commandeer medical supplies and equipment that are necessary for the COVID-19 response from health care facilities. Murphy is hoping all such sites will volunteer such equipment, but notes Callahan now has greater authority to obtain it.
Murphy said he is concerned by reports that the federal stockpile of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment is running low. Callahan, responding to reports that some of the ventilators are not in working order, said that has not been his experience.
Murphy announced Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has committed to donating a total of 500,000 N95 masks and 81,000 face shields. He said it is a donation of more than $2.3 million worth of supplies.
Murphy also said Horizon is making both a $100,000 donation to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and $60,000 to the Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May.
Murphy said Mercer County is now operating an appointment-only, drive-up testing site at the Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence Township for county residents. This site is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You must have a doctor’s note to receive an appointment.
A complete list of all the testing sites in the state can be found at covid19.nj.gov/testing.
NJTV/NJEA learning shows
The Department of Education, NJTV and the New Jersey Education Association have partnered to begin NJTV Learning Live, a new public television program featuring lessons taught by New Jersey teachers, starting next Monday.
There will be hourlong programs for grades 3-6, covering subjects including language arts, math, science and social studies, as well as art, music and physical education. Instruction times: third grade (9 a.m.), fourth grade (10 a.m.), fifth grade (11 a.m.) and sixth grade (noon).
Law and order
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is now making public the name of individuals who have been criminally charged for assaulting law enforcement officers by spitting or coughing on them while claiming to have COVID-19, Murphy said. The charge has been updated from disorderly conduct to assault.
“Let me be clear — we are taking a zero-tolerance policy against anyone who acts so stupidly and puts others in danger or makes them fear for their health,” Murphy said. “These are not slaps on the wrist either. If you engage in such reckless behavior, you’re going to face —at the least — fines of up to $10,000 and up to 18 months in jail.”
Murphy referred to the first six charged as members as of “Knucklehead Row.”
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said the reported cases of child abuse and neglect are down year to year in March.
Norbut Beyer and Murphy said they believe that number does not indicate abuse/neglect cases are down, but rather that these children are not being seen — and identified — by teachers, coaches and others in society.
Murphy and Norbut Beyer encouraged everyone to offer to lend a helping hand to those watching children in these stressful times.