Murphy: Despite positive COVID tests, school reopenings are no cause for concern

After about a week of being back in session, at least six different school districts across the state have had to alter their in-person learning plans after positive COVID-19 test results from students and staff. Despite concern around the state, Gov. Phil Murphy assured residents that these transmissions are not related to schools reopening.

“I think this is about what we expected,” Murphy said. “I don’t believe we are aware of any in-school transmission. … It feels to me like this system is working. Steps are being taken as they should be.”

Joining the governor at his press briefing was the medical director of the Department of Health, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who continued to emphasize that a few positive test results should not be cause for alarm.

“If you start with 1.4 million K-12 students in the state, we certainly know and assume that some of them are going to test positive,” Lifshitz said. “It shows that people are being tested and doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

Murphy agreed, pointing out that the focus is less on the few positive tests there are and more on how the districts are responding.

“The schools that have some sort of in-person (learning), whether it’s full or hybrid, the evidence is they’ve done an extraordinary job,” Murphy said. “There are going to be people who test positive for COVID. The question is how quickly can we get our arms around it and figure it out.”

Other notes from Monday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

Murphy announced 346 new positive test results across New Jersey, bringing the statewide total to 196,968 cases.

There were three additional deaths reported that have now been confirmed to be from COVID-19-related complications. This puts the death total at 14,245, with an additional 1,789 probable deaths.

Of the three deaths reported Monday, one was from last Thursday and two were from Wednesday. There were 14 deaths reported in hospitals yesterday, but they are not yet lab-confirmed to be from COVID-related complications, so they are not yet included in the total.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 420 (216 confirmed cases, 204 under investigation);
  • In ICU: 91;
  • On ventilators: 41;
  • Rate of transmission: 06;
  • Positivity rate: 82% (from Sept. 10).

California wildfire assistance

Murphy also announced that the 10 firefighters from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service that were deployed Friday, along with three fire engines and an additional support vehicle, have arrived safely in California to help quell the rampant wildfires in the area.

“Their arrival is not a moment too late, as numerous fires continue to burn out of control,” Murphy said. “We wish them nothing but the best as they tend to the task ahead of them, and we pray for their safety and look forward to their safe return home to their families and friends.”

The governor went on to emphasize the seriousness of the situation at hand on the West Coast, while putting it in perspective for New Jersey residents.

“It’s worth noting that the western wildfires have burned, in total, acreage the size of our entire state,” Murphy explained. “More than two dozen Americans have lost their lives. Thousands have lost their homes — and, in most cases, almost everything they owned.”

For almost a month, multiple deadly wildfires have wreaked havoc throughout California, as 24 people have died in that state from the fires in less than a month. According to CalFire, more than 16,750 firefighters were battling 29 different major wildfires across the state as of Sunday.

Tropical storms and hurricanes update

Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan of the New Jersey State Police again joined the governor to provide an update on weather systems being monitored this week.

“Besides Tropical Storm Sally and Hurricane Paulette, we’re monitoring five additional storms between the Atlantic and the Gulf,” Callahan said. “Right now, we’re not expecting an impact in New Jersey, but we’re certainly monitoring those.”

This is only the second time in recorded history that there have been five active tropical cyclones in the Atlantic at the same time. The only other time this happened was between Sept. 11-14, 1971.

Final word

Murphy on Hispanic Heritage Month:

“The contributions of our Latino communities are unmistakable and provide so much of the color that makes up the wonderous and vivid tapestry that is New Jersey. I see some of the best of New Jersey. I see some of the best of America. This is who we are as New Jerseyans. We are diverse. We don’t all speak the same language. We came from different places. We have different stories. But, here, we are one family — and, at a time like this, that’s something worth celebrating.”