Murphy on millions of new rapid tests being sent to N.J.: ‘Could be game-changer’

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in several counties around New Jersey, the need for more testing has become apparent. Gov. Phil Murphy sees this need and addressed the steps his administration is taking to fix it at his Monday media briefing.

“Over the weekend, our team was in touch with the White House to further discussions on rapid testing resources,” Murphy said. “We’ve been notified that New Jersey will receive a total of 2.6 million of the BinaxNOW rapid tests being produced by Abbott Labs.”

As the governor noted, the test is created by Abbott Labs, a laboratory specializing in emerging medical technologies. It has a response time of only 15 minutes and has a 97.1% sensitivity, which measures how often a test will correctly generate a positive result for people who have COVID-19. The BinaxNOW tests also boast a 98.5% specificity, which is the same as sensitivity, but for negative test results in people who don’t have the virus.

Judy Persichilli, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said the test is an FDA-approved point of care antigen test for COVID-19.

“No equipment is required,” she said. “The sample is collected via a nasal swab and run on a card that uses what they call ‘lateral flow technology.’

“Although the federal government are sending us the tests for free, the actual cost of the test is about $5.”

The tests are scheduled to arrive within the next two weeks. Murphy believes they could bolster the efforts being made to protect residents across the state.

“When you do the math, it’s just shy of doubling our daily testing capacity for about 12 weeks,” he said. “You could envision it being a big weapon in school settings. It could be a big weapon in augmenting our already ongoing efforts with health care workers of vulnerable populations.”

Other notes from Monday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

With 561 new positive COVID-19 results, the statewide total is now 204,107 cases.

Only one new death has been confirmed to be from COVID-19 related complications since the last update. The death total across the state now reaches 14,216, with the probable deaths number still at 1,791.

The governor again noted increased case numbers in Ocean County, with 242 of the new positive test results coming from the area. Persichilli said the state is increasing the level of testing and tracing in the area.

“Tomorrow, 20 contact tracers will be deployed to support case investigation,” she said.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 421 (236 confirmed cases, 185 under investigation);
  • In ICU: 75;
  • On ventilators: 32;
  • Rate of transmission: 12;
  • Positivity rate: 48% (from Sept. 24).

Tax exemption for combat pay

Murphy also gave details on a new bill that he signed into law Monday morning. The new law permanently exempts military combat pay from state income taxes.

“To say this is long overdue does not (do) this point justice,” he said. “We are the last American state to have done this. We want to be (No.) 1 or 2. To be 50 is just jaw-dropping.”

Combat pay already is exempt from income tax at the federal level, but the move officially made this pay received by New Jersey veterans exempt, as well. The law defines a combat zone as any area the president designates as such in an executive order. Currently, there are four active combat zones under that definition: the Sinai Peninsula, the Afghanistan area, the Kosovo area and the Arabian Peninsula area.

“This is, at long last, a statement of our New Jersey values,” Murphy said. “This new law is a worthy complement to our ongoing efforts to ensure that the service of our military men and women is properly honored once their days in uniform are over.”

Tropical Storm Isaias aid request

Murphy said he has sent President Donald Trump a request for a Major Disaster Declaration for 11 different counties that were deeply affect by Tropical Storm Isaias.

“The damage from Isaias led to roughly 1.4 million New Jerseyans losing power,” Murphy said. “Many of those outages extended for multiple days.”

Along with the request for a declaration, Murphy also asked for $34.2 million in recovery funds from the federal government. The statewide impact from the storm was $3.89 per capita, which easily exceeds $1.53 per capita – the minimum damage to qualify for federal aid.

Final word

Murphy on the recent New York Times report on Trump’s income tax payments:

“Part of the deal when you’re an American, right? You sign up to pay taxes. You might not like what you pay, but there’s a deal — you pay in and you get stuff back. … Nobody of significant means like that should be paying less than a working family is right now in New Jersey. … It should be the other direction, folks who have means paying a little bit more to help us rebuild the middle class. When you do that, everybody benefits, including the folks who are really well off.”