First North Jersey FEMA Hospital Set to Open April 6; COVID-19 Positive Tests Pass 25K

The first field hospital to free up hospitals to deal with COVID-19 patients will be open starting April 6.

The 250-bed hospital at the Meadowlands Exposition Center will have a “soft opening” to take non-COVID-19 patients Monday, according to Gov. Phil Murphy, who toured the site with Sen. Bob Menendez and Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the State Police.

Murphy called it an “extraordinary effort” to build the hospital and thanked the state troopers and Army Corps of Engineers for their speedy work that he said would save lives.

‘End of Beginning’

“Of course, this is only the end of the beginning as opposed to the beginning of the end,” Murphy said to a room of workers. 

The Army Corps worked with the State Police to build the hospital over the last week, Callahan said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Guard and health officials worked on the hospital as well to ensure it met federal specifications. 

Callahan disclosed the second field hospital in Edison, is slated to open April 8 and house 500 beds. A fourth hospital that was planned to open in Monmouth County was instead folded into the project under construction in Edison. A third in Atlantic City set for an April 14 launch.

The hospital at the Meadowlands is needed as the surge of patients has begun in North Jersey, with the number of cases continuing to rise and overwhelming local hospitals to the point where divert orders are being given on a regular basis. 

Updated Statistics

As of April 2, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey climbed to 25,590 with 3,489 new cases and 182 new deaths, bringing that total to 537. Of the 537 deaths, Bergen had the most of any county with 120, followed by Essex at 99, Hudson at 44, Morris at 40, Passaic at 22, Sussex at seven and Warren with three.

“I know these numbers are stark,” Murphy said. “They are certainly sobering. We can lower these numbers, and we will. The way we do that is aggressively and continuously practicing our social distancing.”

Of the state’s 537 total deaths, 76 of the deaths have been from residents of long-term care facilities and 47% have been people over the age of 80. 

Bergen Over 4,000 Cases

Bergen is still the primary hot spot in the state with 4,099 total cases, followed by Essex at 2,617, Hudson at 2,270, Union at 2,010, Middlesex at 1,766, Passaic at 1,750, Monmouth at 1,458, Ocean at 1,371, Morris at 1,082, Somerset at 549, Mercer at 386, Camden at 343, Burlington at 294, Sussex at 179, Gloucester at 169, Hunterdon at 130, Warren at 116, Atlantic at 50, Cape May at 34, Cumberland at 31 and Salem at 20. 

The breakdown does not include 4,866 cases and four deaths still under investigation to determine where those people reside.

There’s a backup at getting test results that could be 10 to 14 days, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

“All of the labs are overwhelmed at this point,” Persichilli said.

Gottheimer, Sherrill Urge Testing 

With testing a constant need, Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Mickie Sherrill joined a bipartisan push for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to deploy antibody tests as rapidly and widely as possible, once they are approved, to check for those who have acquired immunity to COVID-19 so more Americans can safely return to work and help restart the nation’s economy.  

Gottheimer noted North Jersey’s Becton Dickinson (BD), along with BioMedomics, recently announced the release of a new 15-minute test that can detect antibodies in blood to confirm current or past exposure to COVID-19.

Commandeering PPE’s

Beside the need for testing, personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies are in such short supply that Murphy signed an executive order authorizing the state’s Director of Emergency Management, Col. Callahan, to commandeer supplies when needed.  

“It is our responsibility to ensure that healthcare professionals in dire need of personal protective equipment are our first priority, because they are the heroes on the front lines, providing life-saving care to the sick,” said Col. Callahan. “We will continue to work cooperatively with our partners at the Department of Health to determine where these critical resources are best allocated.”

This includes medical supplies and equipment from private companies and institutions in order to help meet the continued need for ventilators and PPEs in the state in hospitals, health care facilities, and emergency response agencies.

Authority to be Used

“We all certainly hope Pat doesn’t have to use this authority,” Murphy stated. “We would hope that folks will step forward and do the right thing. But if need be, we will use this authority.”

In a separate action, the governor will permit blood donation drives to continue in order to meet critical medical needs. In order to operate, blood drives must undertake appropriate mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including incorporating social distancing where practicable.

Blood Needed

“Blood donation drives are a vital and essential activity that our health care systems rely on to complete surgeries, treatments, and critical care,” said Murphy. “The COVID-19 outbreak threatens to disrupt our blood supply and we must continue these operations to ensure that we can meet the critical medical needs of all New Jersey residents.”

Blood drives may continue to operate but must undertake appropriate mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including collecting blood only from individuals who are healthy and feeling well at the time of donation, conducting temperature screens of both staff and donors before entering a blood drive, requiring the use of PPE, providing hand sanitizer to donors for use before the drive and during the donation process, and frequently sanitizing equipment and work spaces.

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