Coronavirus update: N.J. nursing homes ‘underprepared’ for pandemic, report says

Residents from St. Joseph's Senior Home are helped on to buses in Woodbridge, N.J., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Residents from St. Joseph's Senior Home are helped on to buses in Woodbridge, N.J., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Are you on the front lines of the coronavirus? Help us report on the pandemic.

New Jersey announced another 652 cases of coronavirus, bringing the state’s total cumulative count of residents with the disease to 162,068.

The state lost another 112 residents to COVID-19, which means a total of 11,880 residents have now died as a result of the outbreak.

Nursing homes ‘underprepared’ for a pandemic: report

A report commissioned by Gov. Phil Murphy into the response by long-term care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic has found that the industry was “underprepared” for a viral outbreak.

The report, written by the firm Manatt Health, suggested a series of steps the state could take to improve its long-term care system going forward. On Wednesday, Murphy praised the authors and vowed to implement the recommendations.

“If all of us knew in February what we know today, there’s no question we would have, I’m sure, done things in a different manner of some sort,” said Murphy, a Democrat.

Critics have accused the governor’s administration of failing to respond early enough to the rapid spread of coronavirus in nursing homes, where more than 33,000 residents and staff became ill and 5,232 have died. The administration took particular flak for an order that required long-term care facilities to readmit COVID-19-positive patients as long as the facilities were able to “cohort” healthy residents from sick ones.

“The report glosses over the fact that the administration forced our LTC facilities to admit COVID-19 patients, which led to thousands of deaths,” State Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, said in a statement. “With that glaring deficiency, the entire report is suspect.”

According to the Manatt Health report, New Jersey long-term care facilities should improve their emergency plans and develop strategies to communicate with families. The state should also require more transparency from nursing home operators and consolidate state oversight of the facilities, Manatt recommended.

Outdoor dining rules announced

Restaurants that plan to begin offering outdoor dining on June 15 will have to place tables seating individual groups at least six feet apart and follow other safety and sanitization rules, Murphy said Wednesday.

The governor announced earlier this week that restaurants could start welcoming patrons back for outdoor dining in two weeks, as the state continues slowly reopening its economy.

Murphy also said the administration would work with municipalities to allow restaurants to expand their physical footprints into areas such as sidewalks and streets to accommodate more diners eating outdoors.

“We recognize that municipal officials closest to the ground are in the best position to make these decisions that are both equitable and practicable and safe within their communities, and we welcome their efforts and partnerships,” he said.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control will also issue a ruling allowing restaurants with liquor licenses to apply for permits to serve booze in their expanded footprints, Murphy added.

The state Department of Health is expected to issue more specific guidance to restaurants and bars Wednesday.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Murphy to protesters: ‘Get tested’

The governor continued to praise the largely peaceful protests that have occurred across New Jersey in recent days, but he also encouraged those taking to the streets to get tested for COVID-19.

“If you’re in close proximity, I think you should get tested,” Murphy said. “The notion of a superspreader is very much the case.”

Public health officials across the country are waiting to see whether the massive outdoor gatherings will cause another spike in infections.

Murphy has been urging protesters to wear masks in public and keep their distance from others to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.