Murphy Defends Speed of Reopening New Jersey; Feds to Allow CARES Act Spending Flexibility

With calls increasingly coming from leaders of both political parties in the state to reopen New Jersey’s economy sooner than later, Gov. Phil Murphy forcefully defended the actions he has taken to this point in managing the coronavirus crisis.

”No one wants that to happen more than I do,” the governor stated at his daily briefing on May 5. “But we’ve got to do that right. We have flattened the curve, but we are still not in the end zone.”

Murphy said he can’t give more definitive guidance critics have called for while people are still being hospitalized at current rates. 

No Magic Wand

“I know a lot of folks out there who think this is some recipe out of a cookbook, that there is some magic wand, that there’s some magic date,” Murphy said. “There’s no recipe, other than we know social distancing is the best we can do.”

The questions of what should be opened and when comes as two of the biggest political figures in the state weighed in on the subject May 4.

Sweeney, Christie Thoughts

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney offered a plan to allow more small businesses to reopen by Memorial Day, as long as they safely follow social-distancing guidelines.

“The governor has done a very good job of flattening the curve,” Sweeney said. “Now we have to start moving forward with the economy. There are other businesses that we’ve got to start opening up.”

The same day, former Gov. Chris Christie stated the country needs to start to reopen to undo the “economic devastation” from widespread closures of businesses put in place to help slow the spread of the virus. 

Small Business Soon?

Murphy’s answer about small businesses at the briefing indicated actions on new procedures allowing them to open could be in the offering soon.

“Nonessential small businesses that are currently not able to open are on our list,” Murphy said. “I can’t give you a date, but that’s something we’re clearly looking at.”

Murphy said he, too, wants the state “up and running again. We’ve got to do it responsibly…we’ve got to do it safely.”

Deaths Pass 8K

The news comes on a day where the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 130,593 with 2,494 new cases and 334 new deaths, bringing that total to 8,244. Officials believed the number of new cases and deaths may be inaccurate as a result of a network outage May 3 preventing all cases from being processed.

Of the total deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,319, followed by Bergen with 1,261, Hudson at 870, Passaic at 663, Morris at 474, Sussex at 120 and Warren with 91.

State Testing

The state has processed 257,587 coronavirus tests of mostly symptomatic individuals since the outbreak began, with 39% testing positive for COVID-19. Murphy noted that the percentage was the lowest since the state began tracking. The state estimates between 9,000-11,000 tests are processed a day with results returning in about a week.

Officials reported 5,328 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus—which included 532 new hospitalizations—while 232 patients were discharged. The north tier had 2,863 patients hospitalized, the central 1,593 and the south 866.

There are currently 35 patients in field hospitals, with 400 treated overall. Of those hospitalized, 1,734 are in intensive care units and 1,169 on ventilators. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen still has the most cumulative cases in the state with 16,460, followed by Hudson at 16,099, Essex at 14,840, Passaic at 13,797, Union at 13,503, Middlesex at 13,142, Ocean at 7,060, Monmouth at 6,490, Morris at 5,625, Mercer at 4,743, Camden at 4,251, Somerset at 3,820, Burlington at 3,207, Gloucester at 1,467, Atlantic at 1,190, Sussex at 987, Cumberland at 985, Warren at 982, Hunterdon at 679, Cape May at 369 and Salem at 347.

Another 647 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

The amount of days it takes for a county to double its cases in all 21 counties continue to trend up, although cases in the South are doubling at a faster pace than the rest of the state, according to Murphy. In North Jersey, it has taken more than 30 days to double in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Esex, Sussex, Passaic, Warren and Morris counties.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 53% white, 20% black, 17% hispanic, 5% Asian and 5% another race. For 40,309 hospitalizations that were tracked, the breakdown was 36% white, 20% black, 18% hispanic, 5% Asian and 11% another race. 

Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state and vowed that any plan to reopen the state will work to reduce racial inequities in healthcare. The governor recently signed legislation mandating hospitals report age, gender, ethnicity and race of people who have tested COVID-19 positive or died from the virus.

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 59% had cardiovascular disease, 43% diabetes, 32% other chronic diseases, 17% neurological conditions, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for 7,223 confirmed deaths shows 43% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 35% in the range of 65-80, 15% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 509 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and accounted for 22,602 of the cases and 4,151 of the total deaths. 

In a by-county breakdown, Bergen’s 63 facilities had 3,915 residents test positive with 724 total deaths, Essex’s 46 facilities had 2,086 residents test positive with 473 total deaths, Morris’s 41 facilities had 1,446 residents test positive with 342 total deaths, Passaic’s 25 facilities had 1,219 residents test positive with 245 total deaths, Hudson’s 15 facilities had 950 residents test positive with 183 total deaths, Warren’s seven facilities had 426 residents test positive with 69 total deaths and Sussex’s five facilities had 329 residents test positive with 85 total deaths. 

CARES Flexibility

Murphy did disclose the state received new guidance from the U.S. Treasury allowing it more flexibility on how New Jersey can use the $2.4 billion in CARES Act funding it has received.

“While this new guidance doesn’t get us all the way to where we want—or frankly, need—to be, I’m grateful that we now have greater room to meet some of our immediate needs,” said Murphy, who had taken his argument for flexibility directly to President Donald Trump when he visited the White House May 1.

The governor said the money will be earmarked for first responders and small businesses as well as allowing that state to make the next school aid payment of $467 million on May 8.

More Cash Needed

“To be clear, we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Murphy. “This funding was already accounted for in our cash-flow planning, we just didn’t know if Congress would let us use it. We still have a long way to go.”

Murphy, while grateful, said New Jersey needs full flexibility to use CARES Act funding to cover the escalating costs of “our war against COVID-19.”

“We need billions in direct federal assistance to stave off the economic and fiscal catastrophe threatening New Jersey,” he stated. “We need Congress to step up, in a big way, to provide direct relief to the states.”

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