Coronavirus update: Murphy says widespread testing needed before reopening

While expressing some optimism that the curve is flattening, Murphy questioned how they could loosen any restrictions without greater testing capacity.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his second State of the State address in Trenton on January 14, 2020. (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor's Office)

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his second State of the State address in Trenton on January 14, 2020. (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor's Office)

Updated: 5:40 p.m.

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Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday afternoon another 4,059 New Jerseyans tested positive for the coronavirus.  The total number of cases reported is now 68,824.  The state added another 365 mortalities bringing the death toll to 2,805.

According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, 8,185 people have been hospitalized as of 10 p.m. Monday.  The number of people in either critical or intensive care has reached 2,051.  The number of people that have been discharged from the hospital between 10 p.m. Sunday and 10 p.m. Monday is 514.

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Testing as a roadblock to recovery

During today’s briefing, Murphy said testing for COVID-19 is “not nearly where it needs to be” anywhere in the country.

He called for more federal support to make testing more widely available.

“No state has the resources they need to test at the scale they need to test,” he said.

Murphy added they cannot begin to think about reopening unless the resources the state receives, particularly from the federal government, are “a lot more robust than they have been.”

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The governor also said he would sign several bills approved by the legislature yesterday that codifies his executive orders addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Dept. of Labor continues to upgrade, expand

Gov. Murphy announced a couple of measures the state Department of Labor has taken to handle the record number of unemployment claims.

The department’s call center has put more automation in place to determine eligibility.

In addition, 500 department employees have received laptops enabling them to work from home to process claims.

The governor said these are just some of the steps taken to ease the backlog of claims.

“As we said many times before, no one is going to lose one single penny of benefits they deserve,” Murphy said.

The state has received 576,904 unemployment applications in the last three weeks; Murphy called it unprecedented.

Murphy asked for those calling into the department for “continued patience and understanding.”

State tax filing deadline, budget to be extended

Gov. Murphy is expected to sign a bill today that moves the state’s tax deadline by three months to comply with the federal government’s later deadline.

The bill approved by the Legislature Monday extends the filing deadline to July 15.  The federal Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced their extension in March.

In a news release, Murphy said it was “imperative” that the state and residents get “every opportunity to endure financially.”

“Pushing this deadline into the summer will give us additional time to combat the virus and get as many taxpayers as possible back on sound financial footing,” he added.

In addition to the tax day change, the deadline for passing a new state budget will be extended to Sept. 30.

The state treasurer will be required to report on the fiscal condition of the state by May 22.  Murphy would be required to submit a revised 2021 budget by Aug. 25.

Passing that budget will be more challenging, according to one of the leading ratings agencies.  Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the state’s credit rating on its general obligation bonds while revising the outlook to negative.

Moody’s says the outlook revision reflects how the coronavirus crisis will make it harder for New Jersey to balance its 2020 and 2021 budgets. The company cites low reserves and a preexisting structural budget imbalance.

They add resolution of the outlook depends on the length and extent of the crisis and how the state acts.

New Camden County drive-up testing site to open

A new drive-up COVID-19 testing site is scheduled to open Wednesday at Camden County College’s Blackwood campus.

The site is a collaboration among Jefferson Health New Jersey, the Camden County Freeholders and the county Health department.

It will be open to county residents who have symptoms or who have received a referral for testing.  Priority will be given to first responders, health care workers and other people deemed essential workers.

The site will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.  An appointment, which is required, can be made by calling 844-542-2273.

Long-term care facilities remain a concern

N.J. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the state remains concerned about how the virus is spreading in long-term care facilities.

She said all long-term care facilities were surveyed for their ability to put COVID-19 patients on a separate wing or floor from patients who don’t have coronavirus.  They also asked about facilities’ ability to place patients in private rooms with private bathrooms, staffing and available personal protective equipment.

Persichilli said if they can’t keep patient populations separate, they can’t admit any new patients.

Based on the results of that survey, 123 facilities in the state are prohibited from admitting patients.  She adds local health officers or survey staff have visited facilities recognized as having “significant issues.”

Persichilli says the state is working with Alaris Health, Genesis HealthCare and St. Barnabas Health System to provide more than 300 beds at long-term care facilities that take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Placements would go to individuals currently in hospital beds awaiting transfer.

She adds that they have collaborated with the state Department of Human Services to develop an “enhanced” reimbursement plan for facilities that are admitting patients and are following protocols.

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