N.J. coronavirus recovery: Contact tracers get little cooperation, shutoff moratorium extended

A medical worker collects a sample after a patient self-administered a COVID-19 nasal swab test at a Walgreens pharmacy, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A medical worker collects a sample after a patient self-administered a COVID-19 nasal swab test at a Walgreens pharmacy, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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New Jersey officials reported Friday 313 new confirmed COVID-19 cases. That brings the new cumulative total to 188,817 since the state began tracking cases March 4. Officials also reported an additional 13 deaths from the virus; raising the death toll to 14,112. The number of probable deaths was revised downward to 1,829.

The latest rate of transmission is at 1.04, meaning for every new case, more than one other person will get infected.

Trouble with contact tracing

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says that the Garden State’s efforts to perform COVID-19 contract tracing had been hampered by non-responders.

In order to speed diagnosis and containment, some 1,600 contact tracers are employed by the state to track down individuals that may have come into contact with an infected person. But during his Friday briefing, the governor said more than half of those called by tracers refused to cooperate.

“This is highly disturbing to say the very least,” he said.

Murphy implied refusals may be linked to youths or individuals seeking to cover up “illegal behavior” or “underage drinking.”

“Our contract tracers only care about protecting public health. They care about protecting you and your family and your friends. This is not about a witch hunt,” he said. “Take the damn call.”

Murphy emphasizes tracers do not ask about immigration status and the information gathered is kept confidential.

N.J. stockpiling millions in PPE

Murphy said the state had made strides in stockpiling millions of personal protective equipment and ventilators ahead of a potentially trying cold and flu season.

“One of the key things we have discussed since this pandemic began is the need for us to ensure our long term resiliency and preparedness,” Murphy said. “A key piece of this is ensuring the supply of PPE for our frontline healthcare workers…law enforcement and public safety personnel.”

State officials said they had stowed away 4.7 million N95 masks, a million surgical masks, 1.7 million face shields, along with millions of hospital gowns, gloves and other equipment. Murphy said the state was continuing to stockpile even more PPE before the fall and winter months.

The state has also stockpiled 1,447 ICU ventilators with another 500 on order.

Murphy pointed to earlier shortages of such equipment when the initial wave of COVID-19 struck the state.

“We cannot again find ourselves in the situation we were all in a few months ago relying on the federal government or philanthropic donations,” he said.

NJ utilities extend shutoff moratorium

Officials said public utility companies in N.J. have agreed to extend a voluntary moratorium on service shutoffs through Oct. 15 for both residential and commercial customers.

Gas, water, and electric companies would also offer deferred payment agreements for 12 to 24 months with no down payment.

Separately, PSE&G will continue to reimburse customers that lost food or prescription pharmaceuticals that spoiled during power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.

New senior center tests

The N.J. Department of Health will expand mobile COVID-19 testing operations at senior housing facilities across the state.

A testing unit is already operating in Trenton, with sites set to open in Atlantic City and Camden over the coming weeks. Gov. Murphy said additional sites were planned at senior housing located in the cities of Newark, Elizabeth, and Patterson.

The mobile sites are operating in conjunction with the private health services company Optum.

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