Notebook: State to begin disbursing $150M in aid to 4-year and 2-year schools

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will start awarding the first $150 million in direct support to public four-year and two-year colleges and universities to help offset the costs they have incurred since the pandemic started.

Murphy said the money, which comes from the state’s CARES Act appropriation, can be used for expenses that have occurred since the emergency began and are expected to incur by the end of December, including purchasing cleaning and disinfecting supplies and modifying campus facilities as well as costs related to transitioning to online learning.

The amounts for each school will be made public by the end of the day, Murphy said.

“We are committed to working in partnership with our institutions of higher education to ensure they can meet their various needs — whether it be ensuring access to programs or better securing the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff,” he said.

“Our colleges and universities are among the very best in the nation, if not the world. They are a core strength of New Jersey and will play a vital role in our long-term recovery and economic growth. I am committed to seeing them stay strong.”

Other notes from Friday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

Murphy said the state is reporting an additional 585 positive COVID-19 test results, pushing the state’s overall cumulative total to 187,164.

There were another 10 fatalities due to the virus, increasing the state total to 14,064 with an additional 1,839 probable deaths. Of the 10 newly-confirmed deaths, one is from Aug. 12 and four are from Aug. 11. The remainder span from July 21-Aug. 8.

Other hospital numbers, as of 10 p.m. Thursday

  • In hospital: 514 (278 known cases, 236 under investigation);
  • In ICU: 91;
  • On ventilators: 40;
  • Rate of transmission: 0.92%;
  • Positivity rate:  1.63% (From Aug. 10).

Contact tracing

Murphy said the state has added 185 contact tracers, increasing the overall total to 1,539. All but five counties have now crossed the state’s first benchmark of having 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents and, statewide, there are more than 17 contact tracers per 100,000 residents. The state’s goal is to have 30 contact tracers in place for every 100,000 residents.

That being said, Murphy said, contact tracers are still running into access problems — as people refuse to take calls or answer questions, perhaps fearing they will be charged with an illegal activity, such as underage drinking.

“Nearly 20% of contacts aren’t answering the call,” Murphy said. “And, nearly 50% of those who do refuse to provide information to our contact tracers.

“I must reiterate what we said last week — it is incredibly important for everyone to take this seriously and to work with our contact tracers.  Our contact tracers are not out on a witch hunt for any illegal activity — they’re sole task is to stop the spread of this virus and to save lives, period. Please, answer that call and work with, and be honest with the contact tracer who calls you.”

2020 Census update

Murphy said 65.3% of New Jersey households have responded to the census. Eight counties have have a response rate of more than 70% (Bergen, Burlington, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset and Warren.)

Murphy said he’s pushing for more.

“Our ‘Get Out The Count’ effort to get everyone counted has begun,” he said. “Across the state, we are digging deep within communities to make sure everyone knows about the census, and that their responses are safe and secure, and cannot be used against them in any way.

“What we do in the next 47 days determines our next 10 years. Our future depends on us having an accurate count.”

Rebuke of Facebook

Murphy, in a spirited response, urged Facebook to step up when it comes to policing hate speech.

“I want to end by adding my voice to those of Holocaust survivors calling on Facebook to remove Holocaust deniers from its platforms,” he said. “Hate and misinformation have no place in civil society and should have no home on Facebook or elsewhere.

“The numbers of those who witnessed the Holocaust — and, by the grace of God, survived — are dwindling. We must heed their stories and experiences, or we risk them being repeated. Never again.”

Final word

Murphy on vote by mail (full story here):

“The data and the facts that we see – based on our experience in the July 7 primary – lead us with great confidence to the announcement we have today.”

Murphy on vote-by-mail problems in primary in Paterson.

“I think it’s a data point on the other side. It shows that if someone screws around on this, we’re going to catch you and we’re going to indict you.”