N.J. coronavirus update: Officials advise residents ‘don’t travel’

Public health nurses look on during coronavirus testing

Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurses look on during coronavirus testing outside the Salt Lake County Health Department Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

New Jersey officials on Monday reported an additional 1,379 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 240,997. The state also reported three additional deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 14,564.

Officials are investigating 1,793 probable deaths from the coronavirus. There are currently 1,109 hospitalizations, with 212 patients in intensive care; 100 are on ventilators.

Just stay home

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state is doing away with the travel advisory list that it operated in conjunction with New Jersey and Connecticut.

“There will be no quarantine list. There will be no metrics,” Cuomo said, according to CBS New York.

New guidelines, announced by Cuomo over the weekend, dictate that those traveling to New York State can test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Travelers must obtain a COVID-19 test before leaving their state and then quarantine for three days upon arriving in New York. On the fourth day, they must obtain a second coronavirus test. If the two tests are negative, they can leave quarantine.

Those in New Jersey are exempt from the testing requirement because it is contiguous with New York.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy had previously advised state residents not to travel out-of-state unless necessary as they try to get the number of new cases down. He said that stance has not changed.

“If it’s essential; you’re going to work, you’re going for a health care reason; whatever it might be, that is not included in any of the advisories … beyond that, my posture — our posture — is the same,” he said. “We’re just asking people if you don’t have to travel, just flat out don’t travel, period.”

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli echoed Murphy’s sentiments because “there’s so much widespread disease.” She adds she is in regular communication with her counterparts in New York and Connecticut and are monitoring the situation.

“We do kick the tires; we’re looking at the travel advisory every week and we’ll make changes as we need to,” she said. “But right now, don’t travel.”

New Jersey had started to qualify for its own travel advisory list in October. Persichilli said that the state’s daily case count has exceeded 1,000 cases for the last couple of weeks.

More to receive FEMA unemployment benefit

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce development says that the federal Labor Department is coming up with a way to distribute FEMA payments to 90,000 claimants who did not indicate whether their unemployment was caused by the pandemic.

The department said Monday that they’ve distributed $1.2 billion in payments to more than 778,000 eligible claimants who received unemployment benefits between Aug. 1 and Sept. 5. Payments from FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance program made available $300 a week during that period for those who claimed they lost work due to COVID-19. The second round of the program was completed Wednesday.

The process is being developed because New Jersey did not exhaust their federal allotment.

State officials say those identified as potentially eligible will be contacted by the state.

MVC Chief touts new efficiencies

During Gov. Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing, Sue Fulton, chief administrator of the Motor Vehicles Commission shared how her agency reopened after a four-month shutdown. This included a series of “massive” IT projects as well as retrofitting agency facilities to protect people from COVID-19.

The IT projects allowed for the MVC to do more transactions online and expand payment options.

“Since reopening, our percentage of transactions processed online – compared to 2019 – has more than doubled,” Fulton said.

Fulton also announced that the road test backlog was cleared ahead of schedule thanks to creative scheduling.

In regard to agency operations, Fulton said not only did the workflow need to change for safety and social distancing reasons, but for speed and convenience.

“A year ago, you would have stood in-line to check in, then stood in another line to get your ID checked, then stood in one more line for service,” she noted. “Now when you check in, we take your number and you’re free to go until you receive a series of text messages to return for service.”

Since August, the weekly number of MVC transactions have been above the 2019 average nearly every week.

There are still a limited number of in-person licensing transactions that still need to be conducted like out-of-state transfers; those are now by appointment only. The number of transactions at vehicle centers have also been reduced; primarily to registering private vehicle sales and renewing vehicle registrations that expired before the pandemic. Those now require appointments as well.

Officials say that residents do not need to camp overnight outside of MVC offices anymore to conduct business. It’s a stark contrast from over the summer, when the agency was overwhelmed with people wanting to conduct transactions from registration renewals, completing auto sales to even getting a license. Still, Gov. Murphy said they are not “spiking the football” adding they still have a long way to go.

Fulton says some of the changes will be permanent after the pandemic ends “because they just make things move faster and it’s easier for customers.”

“We’re certainly gonna try to keep transactions online,” she said. “The appointments; it’ll depend, over time, what’s more convenient for people.”

Fulton adds that designating vehicle centers and licensing centers moves transactions faster but will look further at the concept. The designations were made to keep social distancing, but she notes that some agency facilities are far apart and do not conduct a high-volume of transactions.

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