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Coronavirus update: Murphy praises flexibility from DC, AG asks for tips on misconduct

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 for WHYY)

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New Jersey reported 2,494 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 130,593.

Another 334 people died of complications from COVID-19. The state has now lost 8,244 residents to the pandemic.

Recent medical grads can skip licensing exams

New Jersey will begin granting licenses to recent graduates of nursing, physician assistant, pharmacy, and respiratory care programs who have not been able to take their licensing exams.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who oversees the Division of Consumer Affairs which licenses health care workers, said their help is needed to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients across the state.

“We’re taking this step because we know that there are many out there, many future health care workers, who stand ready and willing to help us — but they can’t simply because the centers where they would take the required tests are closed during the pandemic,” he said.

The Division of Consumer Affairs began accepting applications for the emergency licenses on Tuesday.

“This means that thousands of recent graduates can quickly join the teams of health care professionals currently fighting COVID-19,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.

To grow the medical corps battling the surge in coronavirus cases in New Jersey, the state has also issued 18,000 licenses to out-of-state health care workers and extended 600 licenses of recently retired doctors and nurses, Grewal said. It also is issuing licenses to physicians who are certified in foreign countries.

Murphy praises greater “flexibility” with federal funding

Murphy praised U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday for allowing New Jersey more leniency in how it uses the funding it received from the federal CARES Act.

The governor previously blasted the Trump administration for requiring the money to be used only on direct coronavirus response efforts and not to plug other financial holes the state was experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

But Murphy said the administration changed its mind after repeated discussions and granted New Jersey “greater flexibility” in using the $2.4 billion in state aid.

“While this new guidance doesn’t get us all the way to where we want or, frankly, need to be, I am grateful that we now have greater room to meet some of our immediate needs,” he added.

New Jersey, facing short-term cash flow problems, will use the money to make a $467 million school aid payment this Friday and provide additional funding to first responders and small businesses, Murphy said.

AG asks for tips on misconduct in long-term care facilities

Grewal also announced that the state is now soliciting anonymous tips about misconduct at New Jersey long-term care facilities, both before the pandemic began and once it started.

The attorney general earlier opened a wide-ranging investigation into New Jersey long-term care facilities after they became hotbeds of COVID-19 transmission, and after officials found 17 bodies at a small morgue in the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center that was meant for just four.

“I certainly understand that, for many of these facilities, this was the equivalent of a 500-year flood,” Grewal said.

“But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t examine how folks responded when those flood waters started rising. And it also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t examine how they operated before that flood, if they cut corners, if they … ignored red flags or warnings,” he added.

More than half of the state’s deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care facilities: some 4,151 people have died there.

Grewal said the investigation, depending on the facts, could result in criminal or civil charges or simply a report addressing best practices and missed opportunities.

Sen. Menendez pushes $500 billion aid proposal

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said Tuesday that he is in discussions with three Republican senators to garner their support for a $500 billion federal coronavirus aid package.

Menendez and Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana last month announced the proposal, which would provide financial assistance to state and local governments reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Jersey Democrat said the amount of $500 billion was recommended by the National Governors Association, but that he would support a higher figure.

“I certainly would welcome more money,” Menendez said, “but I also know that we can only achieve anything if we have bipartisan support here.”

That sentiment was echoed by New Jersey mayors who reported staggering revenue shortfalls in just a few the last few weeks.

John Ducey, the mayor of Brick Township in Ocean County, said the municipality was already short $1 million in about a month and a half.

Fewer drivers on the road has meant less municipal revenue through motor vehicle infractions. The amount of trash has increased by 25% because more residents are staying at home, and it’s costing the township more to dispose of it.

“We were financially stable for many years. We take pride in that,” Ducey said. But he added that the quickness with which the township lost that much money was “very, very scary.”

Menendez did not name the three other Republicans he was talking to, whose support he may need to reach the 60-vote threshold for approval in the Senate.

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