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No self-serve gas in N.J., Murphy says, as Camden opens coronavirus testing site

People on Market Street in Wilmington, Del. wearing protective masks on Friday, March 27, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

People on Market Street in Wilmington, Del. wearing protective masks on Friday, March 27, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

On Tuesday, New Jersey officials reported 2,196 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 18,696. The virus also caused an additional 69 deaths, increasing the overall death toll to 267 residents.

Of those who have died, roughly 1% have been younger than 30, 4% between 30-49, 17% between 50-64, 30% between 65-79 and 47% 80 or older. Slightly over half the fatalities have been men.

New Jerseyans still can’t pump their own gas — at least not yet

Gov. Phil Murphy said he has “no plans” to suspend New Jersey’s prohibition on self-service gas even as the trade group representing gas stations says the change would make workers and drivers safer.

Oregon, the only other state to restrict self-service gas, relaxed its rules over the weekend due to concerns that illness among pump attendants could cause stations to close and make it difficult for critical workers to get to their jobs.

In addition, the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association said it’s impossible for attendants to maintain the recommended six-foot distance from customers as they pass potentially contaminated bank cards and cash back and forth.

“The virus will presumably continue to live on the attendants’ gloves and perhaps attach itself to the card of every subsequent motorist who comes in afterward,” the group said in a statement.

Instead, drivers should fill their own tanks while taking their own hygienic precautions, the group said.

Self-serve gas is the third rail of New Jersey politics. Former Gov. Tom Kean purportedly said he got “crucified” when he once suggested it. More recently, former Gov. Jon Corzine floated the idea in his first year, but promptly abandoned it.

‘Universal masking’ at nursing homes

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities must implement “universal masking” of all staff and visitors under updated guidance issued by the state Department of Health this week, while symptomatic residents must wear a mask while receiving direct care.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced the new policy on Tuesday in the wake of disturbing reports of the virus spreading rapidly among elderly residents in nursing homes.

She said statistics from Washington State indicate that asymptomatic but infected health care workers there had spread the virus while caring for nursing home residents.

As of Tuesday, roughly one in five of New Jersey’s coronavirus-related deaths have occurred at long-term care facilities, and 81 of the 375 such facilities in the state had at least one COVID-19 case.

In addition, Persichilli said long-term care facilities must create separate wings, units or floors to house asymptomatic new residents or those returning from the hospital, and other areas to care for residents who have or are thought to have COVID-19.

“They must limit the staff working between the wings or units as much as possible to avoid spread of the virus,” she added.

Camden County to open testing site; options expand statewide

Camden County will open a new drive-thru coronavirus testing site in the city of Camden on Wednesday as more South Jersey counties prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases akin to what has happened in their northern neighbors.

The site in Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park will be open by appointment only to symptomatic Camden County residents with a referral from a health care provider from Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m., until April 15.

There are also public coronavirus testing sites in Burlington and Ocean counties, which have similarly seen their positive cases and deaths creep up in recent days.

The majority of New Jersey’s coronavirus cases remain concentrated in northern counties outside New York City — Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union.

The state is operating two drive-thru testing sites in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, at Bergen County Community College and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Monmouth County. Other testing sites are open for residents in Passaic, Morris, Hudson, Union, Middlesex and Mercer counties, as well as Jersey City.

The state is keeping a running list of New Jersey coronavirus testing sites, which includes details on each one’s operating procedures and symptom requirements.

Criticism mounting over toll hike proposals

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew is the latest elected official to rip the South Jersey Transportation Authority for considering a 37% toll hike on the Atlantic City Expressway during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, is plowing ahead with a similar proposal to raise tolls on those roadways.

“South Jersey is hurting,” said Van Drew in a statement. For decades he was a Democrat but switched to become a Republican after voting against impeachment. “The last thing we need right now are more proposals and hearings on how politicians from Trenton can best punish our citizens even more.”

It currently costs $3.75 to drive the length of the AC expressway. Under the proposal, the average toll would initially increase 57 cents and then be indexed to inflation, rising up to 3% annually.

The money would help fund capital projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Tolls were last raised in 2008.

Until a few days ago, the South Jersey Transportation Authority was planning to hold in-person hearings on the proposed toll hike despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s statewide ban on gatherings of any size.

On Monday afternoon, the authority changed the notice on its website to say the public hearings set for Wednesday and Thursday will be held remotely.

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