Another showdown over COVID-19 Statehouse protocols left some North Jersey lawmakers unable to enter the building that holds the Assembly and State Senate.
GOP Assembly members Jay Webber (R-26), Robert Auth (R-39), Serena DiMaso (R-13), Brain Bergen (R-25), Erik Petersen (R-23) and Gerry Scharfenberger (R-13) were stopped from entering the Statehouse at two places when both chambers were scheduled for business Dec. 20.
Auth sent out a tweet that morning, which read ”Barred from entering the Statehouse and performing our duty. Luckily, I’m not alone Assembly members @JayWebberNJ @Sdimaso @votebergen @NJAsmGerry @Robert_Auth & Erik Petersen all standing strong for our Constitutional right. #LeadRight #EnoughIsEnough”
GOP lawmakers throughout the day addressed a group of anti-vaxx and mask protestors who showed up outside on the statehouse grounds to show their support. When voting started at 1 p.m., those who were unable to access the building voted remotely instead.
Those same legislators led an effort upending a busy state Assembly session with nearly 100 bills to be voted upon. The GOP lawmakers denied access repeatedly commented on measures that would normally sail through in minutes, slowing the session to a crawl and frustrating Democrats who control the chamber. The marathon session—which was also beset by technical problems at points—began shortly after 1 p.m. and ended at 12:13 a.m., more than 11 hours later.
After voting was completed, Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-19) released a statement that chided Republican members’ for their conduct during Monday’s voting session.
“We have a fair and sensible policy that seems all the more reasonable as new COVID-19 case numbers have risen rather alarmingly to levels above 6,000 per day,” said Coughlin. “I am glad members on both sides of the aisle chose to show up with respect for their colleagues, staff, and the public today. This is what happens when we come to the table with a spirit and willingness to do our jobs: the people’s business.”
“Despite the desperate efforts of several members of the minority party to delay important legislation, we succeeded in passing major mental health legislation for our students, took steps on gun safety, honored our service members and veterans, furthered our support for economic development in Atlantic City, and kept commitments to safeguard our natural resources.”
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.
Role of State Troopers
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)—Bergen 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.
After expressing his dismay at his fellow legislators, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) added that “there’s been a colossal failure of security here at the Statehouse. This is something we cannot tolerate.”
The role of the State Police has come under focus since that day. While Acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan later reiterated that “we take the security of that Statehouse seriously and will continue to do so,” Gov. Phil Murphy and Callahan had refused to answer 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. They did so again at a press briefing Dec. 20.
The move by GOP Assembly members for Dec. 20 was not unforeseen. Assemblyman Webber had notified the state attorney general’s office he was preparing to go to court and would not submit to a COVID-19 test or provide proof of vaccination to gain entry into the Statehouse complex.
In a letter to a letter to acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck, Webber’s attorney Mark Sheridan, argued that “any attempt to deny him entry to the Statehouse or the Assembly Chamber is a violation of … the New Jersey State Constitution and a deprivation of his privileges and immunities under the New Jersey State Constitution.” Additionally, he warned Bruck that the New Jersey Civil Rights Act prohibits Webber and others from being deprived of their rights as elected members of the New Jersey Legislature.
A judge denied the request later in the day.
As of Dec. 20, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,170,437 with 6,505 total new PCR cases. There were 744 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 182,375. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,352,812.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 11 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,888. The state listed probable deaths at 2,842, bringing the overall total to 28,730. State officials noted 16 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Dec. 20, Bergen had a total of 571 new confirmed cases and 53 new probable cases, Essex 1,159 new cases and 29 new probable case, Hudson 531 new cases and 16 new probable cases, Morris 396 new confirmed cases and 24 new probable cases, Passaic 370 new cases and 39 new probable cases, Sussex 164 new cases and six new probable cases, and Warren 83 new cases and five new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,887, followed by Bergen at 2,736, Hudson with 2,200, Passaic at 1,850, Morris at 1,063, Sussex at 288, and Warren County at 243.
In regards to probable deaths reported Dec. 20, Bergen has 312, Essex has 310, Morris has 268, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 73 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,957,600 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Dec. 6, 68,913 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated (1.16%). Of those 1,513 have been hospitalized and 350 COVID-related deaths—less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Nov. 29-Dec. 5, breakthroughs accounted for 22.5% of all new cases (6,082 of 27,036), 2.0% of new hospilizations (24 of 1,198), and 0 of the 116 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Dec. 20, it remained at 1.21 for the third consecutive day. The daily rate of infections from those tested Dec. 16 was 12.1%; by region, the rate was 13.0% in the North, 11.9% in the Central region and 9.1% in the South.
The state reported 1,902 patients were hospitalized in full reporting of the state’s 71 hospitals. By region, there were 774 in the North, 618 in the Central and 510 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 359 are in intensive care units and 181 on ventilators. A total of 190 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.
According to the state dashboard, new student cases totaled 5,632 and new staff cases 1,315 in the last week as of Dec. 12. Cumulatively, 34,331 cases have been reported— 36,252 students and 8,079 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 84.0% overall. In North Jersey counties, Sussex was tops at 86.7%, followed by Morris at 86.5%, Warren at 86.0%, Passaic at 86.0%, Essex at 82.4%, and Hudson at 78.9%, and Bergen at 78.6%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Dec. 15, the state has tracked 294 school outbreaks and 1,618 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 47 outbreaks and 273 cases from the week previous.
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, Bergen County has 32 confirmed outbreak with 139 cases, Passaic County has 14 confirmed outbreak with 136 cases, Morris County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 108 cases, Sussex has 24 confirmed outbreak with 105 cases, Essex County has 16 confirmed outbreak with 82 cases, Hudson County has 13 confirmed outbreaks with 53 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 205 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,645 of the cases, broken down between 734 residents and 787 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,980 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 34,538 residents and 23,853 staff, for a total of 58,391.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,737 on Dec. 20. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,047 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,811,342 in-state, plus an additional 498,606 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,309,948 as of Dec. 20.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,148,219 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 206,917 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,355,136—73% of those total eligible. A total of 7,221,774 have received at least their first dose, or 85% of those eligible, as of Dec. 20.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,015,051 for Pfizer and 870,099 for Moderna. A total of 42,651 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,927,801 have received a booster or third shot, or a total of 40% of those eligible.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 675,301 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 541,778, Hudson 483,560, Morris 364,962, Passaic 330,780 Sussex 87,758, and Warren 57,141.