Gov. Phil Murphy left no doubt his feelings about Republican actions at the Statehouse last week in defying COVID-19 health protocols.
“But the big story from last week is not about security. It’s about the idiocy of these ringleaders who are putting their fellow members’ health and the families of those fellow members at risk, ” said Murphy at a virtual press briefing Dec. 8. “It’s outrageous, absolutely outrageous, incredibly irresponsible, unforgivable…that is the story from last week.”
The comments came after New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan was asked why lawmakers were allowed to access the Assembly floor without going through the same health protocols that staffers, members of the public and media had to adhere to as they entered the Statehouse as set forth by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission.
Dodging Security Comments
But before Callahan could offer an answer, Murphy stepped in to state that security details is something that is not discussed in public, and that would be the instance in this case. It’s a statement that Murphy would repeat when three other reporters attempted to ask Callahan about the incident.
Murphy’s eruption continued as he stated “This is not about freedom or civil rights, (it’s about) their willingness to volitionally run the risk of infecting innocent, law-abiding folks who have done the right things during this pandemic.”
At issue were GOP lawmakers unhappiness with the new statehouse policy that went into effect Dec. 1. The new protocols require that all those entering the buildings must show ID and proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test conducted within the previous 72 hours. Additionally, on sight rapid tests were available to all entrants. The commission policy applies to elected lawmakers voting in person, all legislative staff members, reporters covering events, and anyone visiting the Statehouse, including those who want to speak at a hearing or protest a bill inside the building.
But on the day of the first session, a chaotic scene unfolded as a number of Republican lawmakers did not comply with the COVID-19 protocols ushered in by the Senate President and Assembly Speaker that morning. The rules by the legislative leaders codifying the commission’s procedures were needed after a nonpartisan legal counsel said the commission did not have the authority to require legislators adhere to the same requirements of all those entering the Statehouse to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested.
While GOP Assembly members were initially stopped for about 15 minutes crying “tyranny” from accessing the Assembly floor—including Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24) and Parker Spence (R-24)—Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-25) eventually led lawmakers in defying the regulations as they walked past the officers assigned because they would not physically restrain them from gaining access onto the floor.
When he finally gavelled in the session after a three hour delay, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) stated he was “outraged that 28 members of the minority caucus could not be bothered to exhibit the decency or humanity (just) to have a couple minutes on the TV news. To be clear, in the midst of this sacrifice the only thing that was asked of the legislators here today to do was to show that they weren’t infected, to care about their colleagues and the people in the chamber.”
The speaker later added that “there’s been a colossal failure of security here at the Statehouse. This is something we cannot tolerate.”
Spotlight on State Police
The role of the State Police has come under focus since that day. While Callahan later reiterated that “we take the security of that Statehouse seriously and will continue to do so,” no answers were given for plans for the next voting season, any role that the governor’s office had in the assignment of the troopers at the Statehouse doors or the reported reassignment of troopers after the incident.
Answers were sought as due to the confusion over the role that NJSP would or can play in enforcing the commission’s edict. In a letter before the rules went into effect, acting attorney general, Andrew Bruck, had reportedly told Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney that the state police would check for vaccination proof. Question arose after the nonpartisan New Jersey Office of Legislative Services opinion that a legislator who declines to follow a new COVID-19 policy cannot be arrested, but that the legislature itself could enforce their own rules to exclude the in-person presence of a member.
As of Dec. 8, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,111,709 with 3,274 total new PCR cases. There were 1,184 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 172,216. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,283,925.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 24 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,688. The state listed probable deaths at 2,830, bringing the overall total to 28,518. State officials noted 17 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Dec. 8, Bergen had a total of 273 new confirmed cases and four new probable cases, Essex 255 new cases and 56 new probable case, Hudson 164 new cases and 39 new probable cases, Morris 200 new confirmed cases and 77 new probable cases, Passaic 195 new cases and 53 new probable cases, Sussex 63 new cases and 30 new probable cases, and Warren 86 new cases and 11 new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,872, followed by Bergen at 2,723, Hudson with 2,187, Passaic at 1,841, Morris at 1,059, Sussex at 285, and Warren County at 239.
In regards to probable deaths reported Dec. 6, Bergen has 312, Essex has 310, Morris has 267, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 72 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,928,600 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Nov. 29, 61,521 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated (1.04%). Of those 1,402 have been hospitalized and 339 COVID-related deaths—less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Nov. 22-28, breakthroughs accounted for 20.0% of all new cases (3,393 of 16,050), 1.8% of new hospilizations (16 of 974), and 0 of the 82 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Dec. 8, it jumped to 1.36 from 1.31 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Dec. 4 was 9.6%; by region, the rate was 8.4% in the North, 10.6% in the Central region and 11.3% in the South.
The state reported 1,409 patients were hospitalized with all of the state’s 71 hospitals reporting. By region, there were 506 in the North (the first time over 500 since May), 467 in the Central and 436 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 261 are in intensive care units and 117 on ventilators. A total of 158 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 142 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,259 of the cases, broken down between 644 residents and 615 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,901 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 34,328 residents and 23,546 staff, for a total of 57,874.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,712 on Dec. 8. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,033 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Dec. 8, the state has tracked 248 school outbreaks and 1,345 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 31 outbreaks and 173 cases from the week previous. According to the state dashboard, new student cases totaled 3,024 and new staff cases 858 in the last week. Cumulatively, 31,482 cases have been reported— 25,781 students and 5,701 staffers.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Passaic County has 10 confirmed outbreak with 108 cases, Bergen County has 24 confirmed outbreak with 97 cases, Morris County has 15 confirmed outbreaks with 88 cases, Sussex has 17 confirmed outbreak with 66 cases, Essex County has 13 confirmed outbreak with 56 cases, Hudson County has 12 confirmed outbreaks with 44 cases and Warren County has one confirmed outbreak with four cases..
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 84.1% overall. In North Jersey counties, Warren is tops at 86.8%, followed by Morris at 86.4%, Sussex at 85.7%, Passaic at 85.5%, Essex at 82.0%, Bergen at 80.4%, and Hudson at 78.7%, the lowest county in the state.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 14,001,990 in-state, plus an additional 532,252 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,534,242 as of Dec. 6. The total includes about 145,000, or 19.2% of those eligible, between the ages of 5-11 who have received the vaccine.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,130,315 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 227,774 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,130,315.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 820,918 for Pfizer and 698,411 for Moderna. A total of 33,434 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,552,763 have received a booster or third shot, or a total of 34% of those eligible.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 665,636 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 533,052, Hudson 4745,112, Morris 359,126, Passaic 326,186, Sussex 86,672, and Warren 56,366.