Murphy: Universities should test students before they return home for Thanksgiving

With thousands of college students getting ready to return home for Thanksgiving, Gov. Phil Murphy made one thing clear: They should return to New Jersey with a test that says they do not have COVID-19.

“Ramping up testing for students prior to their departures home is a critical step for reducing the risk of transmission across our region,” Murphy said during his COVID-19 briefing.

Murphy joined fellow Northeast governors with a request to universities around the country to make COVID-19 testing available to all residential students before they leave for Thanksgiving break.

Judith Persichilli, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said families need to think about the safety of their loved ones during this holiday.

“While it is exciting for both students and their families to reunite, we need everyone to work together to lower the risk of spreading the virus to one another,” she said. “I know families are eager to spend time with students returning from school, and the public health guidance we’re sharing has limited some of those interactions, but these steps will keep your family safe.”

Other numbers from Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

Murphy announced there are 4,063 new cases of COVID-19. This brings the cumulative total since March to 289,562 cases. An additional 340 patients were admitted to hospitals, but 288 patients were released.

Murphy announced an additional 27 COVID-19 fatalities, bringing that total to 14,893, with an additional 1,812 probable deaths. Murphy said there were 31 COVID deaths reported in hospitals Tuesday, but they are still awaiting lab confirmation.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 2,446 (2,196 confirmed, 250 under investigation);
  • In ICU: 461;
  • On ventilators: 223;
  • Rate of transmission: 43;
  • Positivity rate: 88% (from Nov. 14).

School outbreaks

Murphy said there have been five new in-school outbreaks in pre-K-12 schools throughout the state. The outbreaks led to 47 new cases.

Since the beginning of the school year, Murphy said there have been 56 outbreaks that can be linked to 239 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Digital divide

Murphy said the state has gone a long way to close the digital divide in its schools. As of Wednesday, 70.3% of districts report no device or connectivity needs.

“If you recall, back in the summer, we estimated that roughly 231,000 students lacked either the proper device or connectivity for remote learning,” he said. “This week, that has been reported at just over 35,000 students, which marks an almost 12% reduction since last week’s update.”

Final word

Murphy on yet another day of more than 4,000 new cases:

“There is no way to sugar-coat any of these numbers. They are not good, and they are trending worse. The only way we can reverse these numbers is to wear masks, to social distance, to wash our hands frequently with soap and water, and to not attend any private gatherings outside those with our immediate families in our own homes.”