With unemployment claims in New Jersey passing one million May 7, state officials spoke about how they are working to get all claims processed in a timely fashion.
Gov. Phil Murphy said to those unemployed that have had issues getting their claims processed, “We’ve heard you loud and clear. We know you’re frustrated.”
“This is an unemployment crisis unlike that which we have ever seen,” stated Murphy. “Weekly claims are, literally, many times more than the New Jersey Department of Labor has historically dealt with across entire months.”
$1.9 Billion Paid Out
State Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said the state is averaging 155,000 new claims a week and unemployment office workers are trying to help residents submit qualified claims as quickly as possible for those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The department has already processed claims for 700,000 unemployed, underemployed and furloughed residents, totaling $1.9 billion in federal and state assistance to date, officials said. The state said the current backlog of about 300,000 claims mostly deals with the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that made gig workers and freelancers eligible.
To help handle the surge, the state is launching a new chatbot and is working on getting a new call center for claims up and running which would add 130 more employees to process the claims.
Responding to Critics
Officials noted six days is the median time it takes for a claim to get processed, with 97% paid within three weeks.
Asaro-Angelo characterized unemployed residents waiting longer to receive benefits are anomalies that now run into the thousands due to the higher volume. The commissioner said issues with claims often deal with wages from multiple states or claims being contested by their employers.
“In the end, those claims would be having the same issues if they happened five months ago. There’s all kinds of emergent situations. All you want to do is cure them right away,” said Asaro-Angelo
When asked about Assemblyman Kevin Rooney’s call for Asaro-Angelo to resign, Murphy did not blink in proclaiming his support for the labor commissioner.
“Rob’s not going anywhere,” the governor said. “This is a 500-year flood. New Jersey’s performance is in a different place than most American states right now.”
As of May 7, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 133,635 with 1,827 new cases and 254 new deaths, bringing that total to 8,801.
Of the total deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,381, followed by Bergen with 1,319, Hudson at 923, Passaic at 703, Morris at 503, Sussex at 123 and Warren with 99.
The state has processed 261,869 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 4,996 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus—which included 325 new hospitalizations—while 460 patients were discharged. The north tier had 2,562 patients hospitalized, the central 1,558 and the south 876.
There are currently 32 patients in field hospitals, with 413 treated overall. Of those hospitalized, 1,470 are in intensive care units and 1,107 on ventilators.
Bergen Tops County Count
Bergen still has the most cumulative cases in the state with 16,609, followed by Hudson at 16,354, Essex at 15,095, Passaic at 14,133, Union at 13,781, Middlesex at 13,411, Ocean at 7,209, Monmouth at 6,649, Morris at 5,702, Mercer at 4,986, Camden at 4,479, Somerset at 3,914, Burlington at 3,367, Gloucester at 1,548, Atlantic at 1,302, Cumberland at 1,090, Sussex at 1,006, Warren at 1,004, Hunterdon at 685, Cape May at 401 and Salem at 358.
Another 594 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.
The racial breakdown of the recorded deaths was 53% White, 19% Black, 18% 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. Health Commissioner Judith 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 513 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and accounted for 24,639 of the cases and 4,505 of the total deaths.
In a by-county breakdown, Bergen’s 63 facilities had 4,066 residents test positive with 778 total deaths, Essex’s 46 facilities had 2,413 residents test positive with 471 total deaths, Morris’s 41 facilities had 1,613 residents test positive with 369 total deaths, Passaic’s 25 facilities had 1,370 residents test positive with 272 total deaths, Hudson’s 15 facilities had 1,060 residents test positive with 174 total deaths, Warren’s seven facilities had 450 residents test positive with 83 total deaths and Sussex’s five facilities had 329 residents test positive with 94 total deaths.
National Guard to Andover
The governor announced the National Guard will be deployed to long-term care facilities beginning this coming weekend.
“We don’t take this step lightly,” he said. “But we take it knowing that the crisis in our long-term care facilities requires us to take it.”
The soldiers will work to support the facilities as non-medical workers, which could include testing, janitorial services, cooking and serving meals and performing administrative or logistical tasks.
The first deployment includes 22 soldiers being sent to Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, said Persichilli. The Andover facility was being evaluated by Guard personnel to determine where the need is most.