Gov. Phil Murphy detailed Tuesday his plans for increased testing and contact tracing — two things he says are necessary to reopen the state.
Murphy said the plans will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but that they will be worth it — as only this will give residents a feeling of safety in the post-pandemic world.
“(The purpose is) to give everybody confidence that we’ve got the infrastructure in place so that, as we begin to reopen the state, they know that we’re on it — that we can spot community spread or a flare-up, on very short notice,” he said.
Here’s a quick look at both items:
“We need a program that gives every New Jerseyan the confidence that they can be tested, as well — whether they’re symptomatic or asymptomatic, or whether they work in the public or private sectors,” he said. “To meet this, the Department of Health will be issuing a standing order expanding access to testing without a prescription for residents with possible exposure who fall in priority categories and lack access to a primary care practitioner.”
Murphy said expanding the state’s capabilities will demand continued strong partnerships with federal partners — which already have stepped up with 550,000 test kits and 750,000 swabs — and with private labs, and also with Rutgers University’s RUCDR Infinite Biologics to procure hundreds of thousands of their revolutionary saliva-based tests.
“I am proud to announce that we are directing $6 million in federal funding to Rutgers to boost their test production capabilities from 10,000 tests per day to 50,000 within the next six-to-eight weeks,” he said. “And, as we get testing supplies, we will deploy them to areas based on need and where potential hotspots may be emerging, to ensure we hold off a second wave.”
Murphy noted the following:
- The state is well on way to goal of being able to provide at least 20,000 tests a day by the end of May and 25,000 by end of June.
- There are now 135 sites, both publicly and privately operated, which include 11 Rite Aid locations. He said CVS will have swab-and-send testing capabilities in place at 50 of its stores across New Jersey by the end of this month.
- There will be increased testing of the most vulnerable. On Tuesday, Murphy signed a directive requiring all residents and staff at long-term care facilities be tested no later than May 26 —with follow-up testing not more than one week later.
- There is a need to cover veterans homes, development centers and group homes, psychiatric hospitals, the corrections system — as well as a program that ensures that the men and women who work with these populations, including front-line health workers, first responders, transit workers and food service workers, also have ready access.
Murphy said the state must have the infrastructure in place to follow up on those tests, and to reach out to those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 by someone who tests positive in the future.
Contact tracing has not only been going on throughout the outbreak, but, Murphy said, until now, it has remained largely a local or regional effort. Murphy said the state needs to build a Community Contact Tracing Corps — an entire community of contact tracers to augment those already on the ground.
“We must now centralize these efforts, and we are here to help the local health departments, not take over, because together we can achieve the goals we all want,” he said.
The state will do the following:
- Contracting with the technology firm Dimagi to bring its CommCare platform to New Jersey. CommCare will ensure that all data is centralized and uniformly reported. Murphy said he wants to increase collaboration among the municipalities that make up a county to help have a more regional- and county-based approach. He said the costs of this software will be shouldered by the state.
- Hiring at least 1,000 dedicated contact tracers to complement the hundreds already on the ground — and there are currently 800-900 tracers statewide. These jobs will pay $25 an hour, he said. (Get information here: nj.gov/tracer.)
Murphy said both increased testing and contact tracing are keys to the recovery.
“These truly are the underpinnings of the road back,” he said. “Without testing and contact tracing —working hand-in-hand — we cannot get on the road back. Moreover, we know that we just can’t work to a certain date, because, even when COVID-19 recedes, we have to be prepared for its eventual return. Until there is a proven vaccine, or even a proven therapeutic, our best chance at catching and containing this virus is through testing and contact tracing.”
Murphy said this will come at a high cost.
“None of this will come cheap,” he said. “Maintaining both a steady supply of testing materials and a community of contact tracers will take hundreds of millions of dollars. We all must understand that.”