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Coronavirus update: N.J. announces first child to die of COVID-19

Coronavirus testing site in Camden, New Jersey

Health care workers at a coronavirus testing site at Cooper's Poynt Park in Camden, New Jersey, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Miguel Martinez/WHYY)

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Another 1,985 residents were diagnosed with coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 135,454 positive cases. In the past seven days, 11,737 new cases have been diagnosed.  That number has been gradually decreasing since April.

Officials said 162 more people died of COVID-19. New Jersey has now lost a total of 8,952 people to the pandemic.

First N.J. child dies of coronavirus

Officials announced Friday that a child had died of COVID-19, the first New Jersey resident younger than 18 to succumb to the virus.

The four-year-old had an underlying medical condition, but officials did not specify what that condition was or where the child lived.

Gov. Phil Murphy called the loss “unfathomable.”

Guidance on beach reopening coming soon

Murphy said he would announce guidance on reopening the state’s beaches in a week or so, as the Jersey Shore ramps up for its first tourism season during the pandemic.

One day earlier, Murphy said he would be “shocked” if beaches were not open by Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to the summer season. But he has yet to clarify what open beaches will look like.

“Going to the beach will be an experience which will feel in some ways like it always has and in some ways like it never has,” the governor said.

Murphy suggested beaches could see similar measures that state parks undertook when they reopened last weekend, including increased enforcement of social distancing. He also said he was a big proponent of face coverings to slow the spread of the virus.

But Murphy added that it was critical for New Jersey to continue seeing a decline in its rate of new cases before beachgoers descended on the shore.

Asymptomatic testing to begin at two FEMA sites

Two New Jersey testing sites operated in conjunction with FEMA will soon begin testing asymptomatic residents for coronavirus.

Starting on Sunday at Bergen Community College and Monday at the PNC Bank Arts Center, health officials will begin offering tests to asymptomatic health care workers and first responders, people in congregate living settings, and residents who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Murphy said asymptomatic residents should consult a medical professional before going for a test at one of these sites, but an official note from a doctor is not required.

“We were consistently not maxing out of late at either PNC or Bergen Community,” Murphy said. “So this is a chance for us to dip our toe in the water.”

Residents previously had to demonstrate signs of a respiratory illness to be tested.

Widespread COVID-19 testing is a key part of Murphy’s plan to gradually reopen the state, and he said he would provide more details on that proposal next week.

Federal bill would reduce Sandy ‘clawbacks’

Legislation announced Friday in both houses of Congress would eliminate millions of dollars in “clawbacks” that some victims of Superstorm Sandy still struggle to afford.

Many people who received state and federal assistance after Sandy were asked to pay back some or all of their aid for a litany of reasons, including allegations that they “duplicated” their benefits by having two sources of funding for one purpose.

The bill — introduced by U.S. Reps. Andy Kim and Frank Pallone and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez — would end the federal requirement that those funds be repaid.

“New Jersey is recovering from two crises right now; the impact of COVID-19 on our state and the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy,” Kim said in a statement. He represents a sprawling district in South Jersey. “It’s time we took action to help our local mayors and homeowners to give them a fighting chance to stay on their feet during these historically tough times.”

Homeowners still owe between $80-$100 million in “clawbacks,” according to the sponsors. The bill would also forgive the Community Disaster Loans that went to local governments after Sandy.

“Over seven years has passed and we are still suffering the effects of Superstorm Sandy. Our families, our communities must be able to heal and move forward to recover. The clawbacks are putting financial burdens once again on those who have already lost so much from the storm,” said Jody Stewart, an organizer with the New Jersey Organizing Project.

“I would like to thank Congressman Kim, Congressman Pallone and Senator Menendez for standing up for our families and communities to help us become whole.”

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