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Gov. Phil Murphy Pushes Back on GOP Hearings Focused on State Actions at Long-term Care Facilities During Pandemic

After Republican State Senate and Assembly members kicked off their hearings looking at the response New Jersey undertook in fighting the coronavirus pandemic at long-term care facilities, Gov. Phil Murphy defended his administration’s actions.

GOP lawmakers March 5 opened their first in a series of investigations into the Murphy Administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic by honing in on the state’s early policies at nursing and veterans homes. Originally, Democrats in Trenton agreed in May 2020 to investigate the actions of the state government to make sure reforms were implemented to prevent the devastation the pandemic has caused. But the seven-member Republican committee was empaneled after efforts to start the bipartisan hearings were stalled by Democratic lawmakers in both the State Senate and Assembly.  

During the over a four-hour hearing held on Facebook, a doctor, a nursing home advocate and relatives of residents who died from the coronavirus detailed how the administration’s early response lacked transparency and a tactical approach led to unnecessary loss of life.

“Political Noise”

While Murphy has repeatedly agreed that hearings are needed, he said now is not the time while health officials and his administration are still engaged in attempting to contain the coronavirus. 

“I have no time for the political noise. We’re still flying the plane….we’re still in the fight,” said Murphy at a press briefing March 8. “ I just don’t want to let the facts get in the way of some political stunt.”

Republicans focused heavily on the New Jersey Department of Health’s (NJDOH) directive to nursing homes saying they could not deny a patient’s admission based on a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

“The nursing homes were thrown under the bus, there’s no doubt about that,” said Dr. Stephen Smith, an North Jersey physician whose credentials include working for Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.

GOP Focus

GOP lawmakers believe a directive that mirrored New York’s amounted to a death sentence for a seniors in in long-term care facilities. State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) pointed to a March 29, 2020 joint statement from the American Health Care Association and the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine urged states not to adopt the New York directive to accept hospital patients into nursing homes. 

Two days later, NJDOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli issued a directive on March 31 that said long-term care facilities should accept residents returning from the hospital, but only if the facility had the room and staff to create a separate wing. 

O’Scanlon (R-13) called it a “smoking gun that demonstrates that this administration dropped the ball dramatically (at nursing homes.) The New Jersey Department of Health still copied New York’s directive word-for-word and, on the 31st, made the same mistake.” 

NJDOH Mandate

Murphy argued the directives were “crystal clear” and if facilities were unable to fulfill the mandate, they were required to ask the NJDOH for help. Within a week of the March 31 directive, 200 nursing homes reached out to the state and said they could not accept residents back

“Our record is crystal clear as it relates to the steps that were taken. Now, does that mean that every operator did the right thing? My fear is that some did not do it,” said Murphy when asked about Republican citing the directive. “But the directives that came from Judy, the words that were in those directives, if what you’re saying is true, they haven’t read the directives.”

One panelist told Republicans that criticisms of Murphy should be balanced with the federal government’s response pushed by then President Doanld Trump.  

Federal Role

“Unfortunately, there is plenty of blame to go around for what happened at New Jersey nursing homes, at every level,” said Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition. “The major things that I’ve been hearing…really reflect on the Trump administration and the failures of the Trump administration, by (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) to adequately address these issues and they left it up to the states.”

Mollot noted both the state and nursing operators share the blame for any negative consequences as a result of the directive.

“They did not force the nursing homes to accept residents. They counted on the (nursing home operators to) only take residents for whom they could provide safety and appropriate care,” Mollot said.

Nursing Home Operators

Murphy argued it is operators that need to face further scrutiny, reiterating that those living in long-term care facilities were returned after their hospital stays because that was where they lived.

”This is not like they’re going to some abstract location, this is their home,” he said. “Part of the reason they were getting infected is (staffers) were working on multiple jobs because they weren’t getting paid enough and we’re finally addressing that. And staffing levels weren’t appropriate.”

The governor pushed back on that narrative that the administration has been unresponsive to the conditions at long-term care facilities, pointing to the changes in pay and staffing levels were implemented after the Manatt Health report was released June 3

“Nine months ago, Judy had the courage to hire an independent firm that came in with no strings attached and held a mirror up to the entire industry of long-term care, to our practices within that industry, and gave a very graphic final report a month later,” said Murphy. “It took a pandemic for us to get the support to get laws passed that have addressed that as well.”

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 278 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 10,866 of the cases, broken down between 5,296 residents and 5,570 staff. 

Cumulatively, 1,277 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,349 residents and 21,174 staff, for a total of 53,523 cases. 

The state’s official death total, reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,935 on March 9. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,834 residents deaths and 143 staff deaths.

Daily Data

As of March 9, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 726,395 with 3,434 total new PCR cases reported. There were 827 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 92,647. The total number of individual cases for the state is 819,042. Gov. Murphy previously noted there is some unknown overlap due to health officials urging those taking a rapid test to get a PCR test.

As for those that have passed, the state reported 46 new deaths, bringing that total to 21,238. The state listed probable deaths at 2,397, bringing the overall total to 23,635. State officials noted 24 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

For North Jersey counties on March 9, Bergen had a total of 453 new confirmed cases and 92 probable cases, Essex 293 new cases and 44 probable cases, Hudson 285 new cases and 63 probable cases, Morris 167 new cases and 38 probable cases, Passaic 204 new cases and 35 probable cases, Sussex 67 new cases and 29 probable cases, and Warren 26 cases and five new probable cases.

State officials identified a total of 136 coronavirus variant cases in 20 counties in New Jersey on March 8, including eight in Essex County, seven in Morris County, seven in Hudson, four in Passaic, three in Warren, three in Bergen, and one in Sussex. 

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,435, followed by Bergen at 2,364, Hudson with 1,851, Passaic at 1,532, Morris at 912, Sussex at 211 and Warren County at 198.

In regards to probable deaths reported March 3, Bergen has 284, Essex has 275, Morris has 224, Hudson has 185, Passaic has 179, Sussex has 64 and Warren has 22.

State Testing 

As for the rate of transmission, it declined to 1.05 from 1.06 for the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested as of March 4, was 7.1%; by region, the rate was 7.0% in the North, 8.0% in the Central region and 5.9% in the South. 

Officials reported 1,899 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 969 in the North, 567 in the Central and 363 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 397 are in intensive care units and 245 on ventilators. A total of 120 patients were discharged.

Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospilizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 71,837, followed by Middlesex at 69,830, Essex at 69,683, Hudson at 65,888, Ocean at 53,985, Passaic at 53,638, Monmouth at 54,036, Union at 50,582, Camden at 40,328, Morris at 33,562, Burlington at 31,750, Mercer at 26,851, Gloucester at 21,597, Atlantic at 20,344, Somerset at 19,399, Cumberland at 12,435, Sussex at 8,313, Warren at 6,643, Hunterdon at 6,599, Salem at 4,323, and Cape May at 3,805.  

In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 9,288, followed by Union at 8,172, Ocean at 7,225, Essex at 6,618, Hudson at 6,081, Morris at 5,770, Monmouth at 5,820, Middlesex at 5,339, Atlantic at 5,282, Passaic at 5,087, Camden at 4,903, Burlington at 4,693, Somerset at 4,357, Cape May at 3,674, Gloucester at 3,173, Cumberland at 2,161, Mercer at 1,719, Sussex at 1,295, Warren at 749, Hunterdon at 645, and Salem 461.

Another 967 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 160 outbreaks involving 765 cases, with eight new outbreaks accounting for 28 cases reported in the weekly update on March 3. 

For North Jersey, Bergen County has 37 confirmed outbreaks with 155 cases, Passaic County has seven confirmed outbreaks with 32 cases, Sussex has six confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases, Warren has eight confirmed outbreaks with 20 cases, Morris County has four confirmed outbreaks with 32 cases, Hudson County has three confirmed outbreaks with 13 cases, and Essex County with one confirmed outbreak with 92 cases.

Vaccine Distribution

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 2,558,570 as of March 9. Of those who have received the vaccine, 1,688,812 residents have received their first dose with 869,104 their second; 52% have been administered the Moderna vaccine and 47% the Pfizer. 

Demographically, 58% of those vaccinated are women and 42% men. As for ethnicity, 58% are White, 13% unknown, 12% other, 7% Asian, 6% Hispanic and 4% Black. In regards to age of those having received the vaccine, 42% are 65 years old or olders, 27% are between the ages of 50-64, 23% are between the ages of 40-49, and 7% are between the ages of 18-29.  

In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 294,954 doses, Essex 204,508 doses, Morris 189,385 doses, Hudson 120,515 doses, Passaic 115,087 doses, Sussex 40,726 doses, and Warren 26,069 doses. 

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