North Jersey News Roundup for March 8, 2021

OPINION: Gov. Phil Murphy is Right—Despite COVID-19 Vaccinations Increasing, Masks Are Still Needed. With New Jersey now having three vaccines in its toolbox, it feels like the momentum is moving forward toward getting back to what our normal lives were. On the horizon is more in-person instruction by the end of the year at our schools, capacity limitations lifted for small businesses and restaurants and all of us able to gather with family and friends. But we still need the health protocols—social distancing, hand washing and yes, face masks—for several more months as we continue to reopen New Jersey.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported mask-wearing mandates were linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and COVID-19 deaths in counties across the United States. Additionally, counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining—indoors or outdoors—saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in COVID-19 death rates about two months later. The New York Times

State officials recently warned that the increase of coronavirus variants in the Garden State is an issue they are monitoring. “While we are concerned about the increase in variant strains, the public health prevention measures that we’ve all been using—physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, getting vaccinated when it’s your turn—are important tools to prevent the spread of this virus,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged that the variants have slowed down plans to further reopen the state.  We would like to be doing more on restaurants right now,” said Murphy. “But with these variants…and the transmissibility that looks like it’s ticked up a bit, we just don’t think that’s the responsible step to take.”

CVS added more than 100 more New Jersey locations where residents can sign up for a COVID-19  vaccine appointment on March 5. People who sign up will be given an appointment for either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, depending on availability. Each store will only have one type of vaccine. News12 New Jersey

Republican state lawmakers opened their first hearing into the Murphy administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on its early policies at nursing homes and suggesting its lack of preparation cost the lives of elderly residents. Over a four-hour hearing broadcast on Facebook, a doctor, nursing home advocates and relatives of residents who died from the coronavirus ripped the administration’s early response as “anemic” and lacking transparency and a tactical approach. The Daily Record

Two North Jersey Democrats are leading the push for a federal commission to investigate the nation’s action in the last year to the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Tom Malinowski in the House and Sen. Bob Menendez in the U.S. Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to create an independent, non-partisan commission, closely modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to assess the nation’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus and provide recommendations to improve the U.S.’s readiness for future epidemics and pandemics.

Biden Administration officials urged the U.S. House to quickly approve the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed by the Senate. The bill returned to the House after the Senate amended the measure before passing the legislation, most notably reducing the income limits for receiving the $1,400 stimulus checks, cutting extra unemployment insurance benefits to $300 from the $400 a week in the House version, and removing a provision increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Wall Street Journal

The federal government’s delay in the process to build new Hudson River tunnels has made the Gateway project more expensive. The price to build two new tunnels under the Hudson River and rehabilitate the existing 110-year-old tunnels is now estimated at $11.6 billion, a $300 million increase over its last project estimate three years ago.

A federal bill to make public companies more transparent when it comes to disclosing their political spending activities to their shareholders was reintroduced by Sen. Bob Menendez. The move to attempt to pass the Shareholder Protection Act of 2021 increased with importance after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot as it demonstrates the urgency of getting big money out of politics, according to Menendez. The proposed law would require large corporations to receive authorization from a majority of its shareholders before managers can spend money on political activities.

Lenape Valley Regional High School’s superintendent is suing his own Board of Education, claiming his contract was not renewed in December 2020 because the board was seeking a younger candidate to take his place. Paul DiRupo, the 64-year-old superintendent at the school, contends he was discriminated against due to his age when Richard Kuncken, the board president, allegedly told him no other explanation for his non-renewal other than the board was “going younger.” New Jersey Herald

The New Jersey Department of Education released a plan to combat loss learning due to the coronavirus. The Road Forward plan is based on four coordinated initiatives focused on assisting students and educators in the Spring, next school year and beyond. A part of this plan includes making $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds available to districts, including grants dedicated specifically to research-based instructional and mental health interventions.

State education officials announced March 5 teachers could immediately receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a shift from a few days earlier when Gov. Phil Murphy said shots would be made available to teachers on March 15. The change, a department of education spokeswoman said, was in response to a call made by President Joe Biden that “every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.” The Record

The Hoboken City Council recently adopted the North End Redevelopment Plan. The plan includes a proposal for a new Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station at 15th Street, public open space to connect to a city-wide green circuit, a mix of new commercial and residential uses, a minimum 10% affordable housing set aside, a pedestrian-oriented retail corridor along 15th Street, a pedestrian promenade along Clinton Street, and the raising of streets to accommodate underground flood infrastructure. Hudson Reporter

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) introduced a bill allowing businesses to prohibit alcohol and drug use on the job, provisions meant to assuage the business community’s concerns over marijuana use. “Marijuana may be legal, but it’s not safe for certain workers to be under the influence while on the job. There should be no confusion about workers’ rights and employer responsibilities to protect workplace safety,” Sarlo said. New Jersey Globe

Trenton lawmakers in both chambers will introduce a bill allowing police officers to notify the parents of underage marijuana users on the first offense instead of the second. Under the recently passed marijuana legalization bill, on the first offense, underage users would receive a written warning. On the second, they’d get another warning, and law enforcement would notify their parent or guardian about the infraction. The third would see them referred to community programs.

And finally…Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, included a number of explosive revelations about the couple and their fraught relationship with the British royal family. The New York Times

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