‘It is a beast’: N.J. coronavirus cases jump to 427 as testing ramps up

A man walks his dog on a mostly empty street before the start of a 10 p.m. curfew in Hoboken, N.J., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

A man walks his dog on a mostly empty street before the start of a 10 p.m. curfew in Hoboken, N.J., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

The number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey jumped to 427 on Wednesday, including five deaths, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

State officials said the increase was not a surprise, given that coronavirus is now spreading in the community and health workers are increasing the number of tests for patients with symptoms of the illness.

“It is a beast,” Murphy said, “no matter how you slice it.”

Earlier in the week, Murphy ordered the closure of casinos, racetracks, and gyms, and he told bars and restaurants to end dine-in service and offer takeout meals only. Any gatherings of 50 people or more are now banned. Schools across the state were ordered to close by Wednesday.

Murphy said the social distancing measures were meant to slow the spread of coronavirus in New Jersey, where a majority of cases are in the northeastern part of the state.

At the same time, officials said they are scrambling to set up drive-thru testing sites for people who believe they have coronavirus and increase hospital capacity to care for ill patients.

Murphy said the state, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, would open the first drive-thru testing site on Friday at Bergen County Community College. He said he hoped the second site would open next week at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Monmouth County.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said an additional 260 hospital beds were becoming available Wednesday with another 227 beds coming in the next three to four weeks, primarily in closed wings of open hospitals. Officials also plan to reopen Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury to increase capacity.

A recent analysis from the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden found that New Jersey could face a “peak shortfall” of between 123,000 – 313,000 hospital beds between May and October.

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