A day after announcing that he has joined the governors of six regional states to reiterate the importance of allowing in-person instruction to continue in some capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy gave more insights into why.
Simply put, Murphy believes schools are some of the safest places to be.
As of Friday, there have been 56 outbreaks confirmed to be started in schools, linked to 239 positive cases of COVID-19. Camden County has the highest numbers in these two stats, as it has nine confirmed outbreaks, with 54 linked cases.
While these numbers may appear to be on the rise, Murphy likes them, saying schools could end up being the safest possible place for the students.
“We take every one of those transmissions and every one of those cases deadly seriously,” Murphy said. “However, if you look at where the safest places to be (are), where contact tracing is as good as it gets, I think, outside of our hospitals and health care systems, it’s the schools. We know exactly who are in those buildings.”
The benefits go past just learning, Murphy said.
“The growing body of medical research shows that the path we’re on in regard to in-person instruction is the right one and the safe one,” he said. “We’re also seeing the increasing evidence of the importance of time in school on a child’s mental health and learning.”
Other notes from Friday’s COVID-19 briefing:
Until a vaccine becomes widely available to the public, the best way for New Jersey to fight COVID-19 is to have an accurate, quick, widely available testing program to identify cases fast and act. Murphy knows this is the state’s best weapon, and gave an update on New Jersey’s testing efforts.
“Our testing has increased exponentially throughout this pandemic,” Murphy said. “We recently hit a high of roughly 70,000 tests in one day and, for the month of November, we’re averaging approximately 45,000 tests per day.”
These test numbers apply specifically to polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing and do not include the antibody rapid test results. The governor also noted that there are days where the level of testing dips, and he knows why.
“You can see some days where the number of tests generally drops off,” he said. “These are usually on the weekends. … Where you could be tested on a weekend, we encourage you to do so, as you may encounter shorter lines and shorter waits at our testing facilities.”
Murphy notes that there are over 400 testing sites across the state that are now active, with more on the way. These sites include county testing sites, community Federally Qualified Health Centers, mobile pop-up sites, pharmacies, hospitals, urgent care centers and university health centers.
The governor also gave an update on the first distribution of 760,000 BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests.
“We also continue to move forward with putting the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests we have received from the federal government out into the field,” he said. “Some 600,000 BinaxNOW tests are currently in the distribution pipeline to our long-term care facilities.”
Additionally, Murphy reported approximately 160,000 tests are being distributed to rapid response teams and county testing sites. After those two locations, there are approximately 100,000 tests left in stock and 1.75 million tests on the way from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. These remaining tests, as well as the ones on the way, are flagged as potential supplies for congregate settings, K-12 schools, institutions of higher learning, hospitals, and other emergency needs.
Since last update, there have been 3,635 positive cases reported, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 297,370. Over the past 24 hours in hospitals across the state, 333 new patients were admitted for COVID-19, while 290 patients were discharged.
There were 23 additional deaths that have been confirmed to be from COVID-related complications. In total, 14,900 New Jerseyans have lost their lives to COVID-19 since March, with an additional 1,812 probable deaths. In hospitals Thursday, there were 27 deaths reported to be from COVID-19 related complications, but they are awaiting confirmation from an independent lab.
Other hospital numbers:
- In hospital: 2,505 (2,272 confirmed, 233 under investigation);
- In ICU: 452;
- On ventilators: 233;
- Rate of transmission: 40;
- Positivity rate: 98% (from Nov. 15).
Murphy also gave his weekly update on the unemployment numbers throughout the state, noting that unemployment initial claims for this past week were at 13,000, which is down nearly 8,000 from two weeks ago.
The governor doesn’t see this as a good thing.
“That will be little solace, if any, to the 13,000 people who did apply this week,” he said. “That is the fifth consecutive week of decline — I guess that’s a good thing. However, we will not lose sight of the tremendous impact that this pandemic has had, as nearly 1.8 million New Jerseyans have sought unemployment benefits since March.”
Out of the 1.8 million who have applied, approximately 1.5 million have been deemed eligible for at least one payment. In total, the state has paid out $19 billion in unemployment benefits.
Murphy continued to plead with Washington, D.C., for federal intervention, something he sees a desperate need for New Jersey.
“As long as (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell is sitting on his hands and not getting behind a major stimulus plan … he’s basically putting a bullet in (non-essential businesses and restaurants),” he said. “Unless we see explicit transmission coming out of there, that’s blood on our hands in a different respect. It’s shameful that they have not acted in Congress, especially McConnell and the Republican Senate, to throw a lifeline to small businesses.”
Murphy on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders:
“We can never forget the sinister rabbit hole through which humanity fell that allowed for the Nazis to rise and for totalitarianism and hate to flourish. We cannot allow any part of our world to again fall down that hole. We cannot lull ourselves into thinking that this is just something from history. We have to remain vigilant and uproot authoritarianism wherever it attempts to sprout. Never, ever, ever forget.”