Coronavirus update: N.J. schools to remain closed, April deaths soar 142%

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Pool photo by Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

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New Jersey reported 1,621 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the state’s total to 128,269.

Another 45 people died of complications from COVID-19. The state has now lost 7,910 residents to the pandemic.

If accurate, those figures represent a significant decline in cases and deaths from recent days. But Gov. Phil Murphy said they are likely artificially low due to a “network outage” on Sunday that affected how cases were reported.

N.J. schools to remain closed through academic year

New Jersey students must resign themselves to remote learning for the rest of the academic year after Murphy on Monday said public and private schools alike must keep their doors closed through June.

Spring sports are also canceled, he said, attributing that decision to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“If the standards to reopen our workplaces are high, they are even higher when it comes to schools filled with our most precious assets: our children,” he said.

Murphy had previously suggested New Jersey’s nearly 600 public districts — plus charters, religious and other schools — could reopen their doors to students later this year. They have not held in-person classes since March 16.

But that idea faced pushback from parents, teachers and administrators, who said in an April 28 letter to the governor that they needed assurances that health would not be compromised under such a plan.

“The current data do not indicate that we can provide such assurance if schools reopen in the spring,” they wrote in calling for the step that Murphy took Monday.

Murphy noted that the state has not yet decided whether to open schools for summer enrichment programs or the coming school year.

In the meantime, he said he’d like to see graduating seniors honored for their hard work.

“We will also work with districts on safe and creative ways to give the Class of 2020 a proper send-off to their bright futures,” he said.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, where the number of COVID-19 cases is not nearly as high, Gov. Tom Wolf announced back on April 9 that students would continue remote learning for the rest of the school year.

April deaths soar 142% above normal

A graph newly released by the state Health Department shows the coronavirus’ toll on New Jersey in sobering clarity.

Data from the New Jersey Department of Health shows a huge increase in resident deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
Data from the New Jersey Department of Health shows a huge increase in resident deaths during the coronavirus pandemic. (New Jersey Department of Health)

More than 14,700 residents died in April — nearly two-and-a-half times what the state would typically record. An average April in recent years would have had 6,090 deaths, according to state data.

Between March and April, New Jersey lost nearly 10,000 more residents than would be expected. That could mean New Jersey’s official COVID-19 death count, which currently stands at 7,910, is too low or other factors could be at play.

As recently detailed in The New York Times, both are probably true. With testing limited, many people have likely died from the virus without a test result to confirm it.

At the same time, fears about catching the virus have reportedly caused some people to avoid going to hospitals for conditions that are typically treatable.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli recently encouraged stroke, heart attack and other patients not to wait to receive care.

“I urge you, do not delay going to your local emergency room,” she said.

Residents pass ‘important test’ at parks

Several state and county parks were overrun with people this past weekend after Murphy opened them for the first time in a month.

But the governor said people overwhelmingly complied with social distancing rules and he didn’t see a need to follow through on a threat to shut them.

“We heard very few incidents of knucklehead behavior that would require me to reverse course and close them again,” he said. “So to all of you, thank you for helping us pass this important test.”The one complaint Murphy had was not enough people were wearing face coverings, which he said is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19. For now, face coverings remain recommended — but not required — outdoors in the Garden State.

Otherwise, Murphy said he now feels more confident about loosening other restrictions down the road. He said over the weekend it’s “too early to tell” whether Jersey Shore beaches will be open for Memorial Day weekend.

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