Coronavirus update: N.J.’s ‘knucklehead’ crackdown continues

Camden County Police Officer Rodriguez wears a protective mask as she directs people to a COVID-19 testing facility in Camden, N.J., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. .(Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Camden County Police Officer Rodriguez wears a protective mask as she directs people to a COVID-19 testing facility in Camden, N.J., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. .(Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Updated 4:50 pm

New Jersey officials reported another 3,663 cases of coronavirus cases on Monday, with the state’s total now at 41,090.

Gov. Phil Murphy also said another 86 people had died, bringing the state’s total number of fatalities to 1,003.

New data: N.J. may be flattening the curve, peak could come in April or May

As the number of positive cases continued to rise in New Jersey, state officials had a bit of good news: the rate of new infections appears to have slowed down.

The growth rate, which measured new infections over the previous five days, was 24% on March 30, less than two weeks after Murphy implemented the state’s strictest social distancing measures. On Monday, officials said the growth rate was 12.18%.

Murphy said the slowing rate of new infections was due in large part to residents who heeded his order to stay at home and only go outside when necessary.

“What you’re doing is making a difference. It’s making a big difference. And we have enough data now to say that comfortably,” Murphy said.

(State of New Jersey)

State officials also detailed their projections for when New Jersey may see a peak in coronavirus cases. If strict social distancing measures remained in place, the state could see a maximum of 86,000 cases on April 19, but the worst-case scenario would be a crest of 509,000 cases on May 11.

(State of New Jersey)

Murphy said the state had to be “cold-blooded” in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and let data drive the administration’s policies, but added that there was an emotional toll to the growing number of COVID-19 deaths he announced each day.

“It sucks,” he said. “You don’t want to see one more person die, hear one more story.”

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli also said the state was beginning to track racial data on coronavirus deaths. Of the people who have died from coronavirus in New Jersey, 33% were white, 12% Black, 2% were Asian, 7% were another race, and officials were still tracking down data on the other 45% of cases.

‘Knucklehead’ crackdown continues

Two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of coronavirus, residents he has taken to calling “knuckleheads” in his daily press briefings continue to contravene it.

Police over the weekend charged 54-year-old John Maldjian of Rumson, Monmouth County, with reckless endangerment and other disorderly persons offenses for holding an impromptu concert on his front porch to a crowd of about 30 people congregating on his front lawn and in a nearby street.

Even after police arrived, Maldjian and another man allegedly continued playing acoustic guitars and singing, and only stopped after they were directly approached by an officer.

Police said further charges were forthcoming for people who cursed at officers and shouted “welcome to Nazi Germany” when they were asked to leave.

“The Governor’s executive orders are commonsense measures to keep people safe during this historic health crisis,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “When people like the partiers in Rumson flout the orders and show disrespect and hostility to police officers, they not only put themselves and the others immediately involved in peril, they risk inciting others to engage in such irresponsible and dangerous behavior.”

Police reported other violations, too. The West Windsor Police Department signed juvenile petitions against a 16-year-old girl who purposely coughed on another customer inside Wegmans after the women told her she was too close, authorities said. And the Englewood Police Department said 43-year-old Sughuy Cepeda spit on and coughed at officers several times after telling them she was COVID-19 positive. Cepeda was charged with second-degree terroristic threats during an emergency and other crimes.

Law enforcement officials are asking residents to report any violations of the governor’s stay-at-home order to police.

Barnes & Noble warehouse workers to protest

Workers at a massive Barnes & Noble distribution center in Monroe Township in Central Jersey are calling on the bookseller to temporarily shutter the warehouse after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.

Some of the workers at the Middlesex County facility, that’s very close to the N.J. Turnpike and employs nearly 800 people, were planning a Tuesday afternoon protest to call out what they saw as unsafe conditions. They also plan to demand the company do more to protect workers from COVID-19.

According to a press release announcing the protest, workers want Barnes & Noble to close the warehouse for two weeks while continuing to pay workers. They also want the New York-based company to fully sanitize the facility, compensate workers with hazard pay when it reopens, provide personal protective equipment, and enact new social distancing and cleaning policies.

They also want the ability to self-quarantine or refuse to work without being retaliated against by the company.

The facility is Barnes & Noble’s largest distribution center in the U.S., according to a federal financial filing from last year. The bookseller has another smaller warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

Barnes & Noble did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Murphy asks retired public employees to return

Gov. Murphy has called on retired public workers to return to service to help the state.

The governor said he signed an executive order allowing the retirees to come back to work without impacting their pension status.

“Right now we need all the experienced help we can get, whether it be retired law enforcement officers returning to duty, or nurses who can return to University Hospital, or folks who can help staff the Labor Department’s unemployment insurance phone lines,” Murphy said.

The state had previously put out a call for retired and out-of-state health care workers to help hospitals prepare for a surge in patients and received thousands of replies.

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