The Murphy Administration will have to defend in court its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for correctional officers.
The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (NJPBA) announced Jan. 24 that the corrections officers union will argue to a state appellate court for a restraining order halting enforcement of Gov. Phil Murphy’s newest COVID-19 requirement.
The move for all 28 PBA locals is in response to the administration’s new policy eliminating a testing option and setting deadlines for state workers in healthcare and congregate settings, such as correctional facilities, to be fully vaccinated and receive their booster shots .
For those in high-risk congregate living facilities, they are required by Feb. 28 to get the first dose and March 30 for the second. As for those who are fully vaccinated but have not yet received their booster, they are mandated to receive a third shot of Moderna or Pfizer or a second shot of Johnson & Jonson by March 30.
PBA officials noted in their announcement that the change comes as the state is “experiencing a significant decline in the number of positive COVID cases as well as witnessing the transmission rate of the virus decline to below 1.0 for the seventh straight day in a row.”
Mandate Extreme, Unnecessary
“The move is extreme and unnecessary in light of the testing policies that were in place and working,” said NJPBA President Pat Colligan. “It is my understanding that unvaccinated officers and in some cases, even the vaccinated officers were being tested once if not twice weekly for the virus. My members have told me that the testing policies were working well in keeping the prisons and jails as safe as possible.”
PBA Local 105 President William Sullivan, which represents more than 5,000 state corrections officers, vehemently opposes the mandate and questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine against the omicron variant.
“Testing was and still is working, especially in light of the fact that we had close to an equal number of positive cases derived from officers that were fully vaccinated as compared to those that were unvaccinated,” said Sullivan. “I believe everyone agrees that the science and statistics have demonstrated that the vaccines have been ineffective in stopping the transmission of the variant.”
Worries About Staffing
Before the announced intentions of the corrections police union, North Jersey State Sens. Anthony Bucco and Holly Schepisi said the vaccine mandate from the governor will only increase the staffing issues at long-term care facilities are facing.
“Nursing homes, group homes, and veterans homes are already struggling to find enough skilled staff to care for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents,” said Bucco (R-25). “By eliminating the testing alternative to vaccination for workers in these settings, Gov. Murphy is virtually guaranteeing that residents will face a shortage of caregivers.”
But Murphy at his weekly press conference on Jan. 24 defended the mandate as being appropriate with “a runway in place that we think is a reasonable one, so it’s not overnight.”
“We have focused on settings where, by definition, people have some vulnerability,” he said. “If you’re in a congregate setting, we know, sadly through history of this pandemic, that the infection runs wild in these places.”
The governor later added that those not getting the vaccine were being “selfish (and) a shirking of our collective responsibility…I do think it’s akin to drunk driving. You’re not only putting yourself at risk; you’re putting other people at risk.”
As of Jan. 25, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,796,200 with 4,459 total new PCR cases. There were 1,347 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 282,058. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,078,258.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 151 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 28,043. The state listed probable deaths at 2,907, bringing the overall total to 30,950. State officials noted 61 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 25, Bergen had a total of 447 new confirmed cases and 142 new probable cases, Essex 266 new cases and 46 new probable case, Hudson 290 new cases and 40 new probable cases, Morris 204 new confirmed cases and 93 new probable cases, Passaic 199 new cases and 78 new probable cases, Sussex 76 new cases and 18 new probable cases, and Warren 61 new cases and six new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,088, followed by Bergen at 2,930, Hudson with 2,352, Passaic at 1,988, Morris at 1,155, Sussex at 345, and Warren County at 280.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 24, Bergen has 321, Essex has 309, Morris has 276, Hudson has 224, Passaic has 202, Sussex has 79 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 25, it declined to 0.61 from 0.64 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 20 was 15.4%; by region, the rate was 13.6% in the North, 16.6% in the Central region and 17.7% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 4,085 patients hospitalized as all 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 25. By region, there were 1,644 in the North, 1,378 in the Central and 1,063 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 704 are in intensive care units and 455 on ventilators. A total of 326 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 561 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 24,355 of the cases, broken down between 11,116 residents and 13,239 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,350 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 44,925 residents and 36,259 staff, for a total of 81,184.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,936 on Jan. 25. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,374 residents deaths and 165 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with 62.7% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 17,820 and new staff cases 4,371 in the last week as of Jan. 16. Cumulatively, 217,685 cases have been reported— 167,619 students and 50,066 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 85.2% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 91.0%, followed by Warren at 88.1%, Sussex at 86.4%, Passaic at 85.5%, Essex at 81.8%, Morris at 82.9%, and Hudson at 78.3%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 11, the state has tracked 406 school outbreaks and 2,365 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 18 outbreaks and 110 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 51 confirmed outbreaks with 274 cases, Morris County has 31 confirmed outbreaks with 197 cases, Passaic County has 20 confirmed outbreaks with 173 cases, Sussex has 29 confirmed outbreaks with 156 cases, Essex County has 24 confirmed outbreaks with 128 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,371,572 in-state, plus an additional 545,862 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,917,434 as of Jan. 25.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,347,650 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 219,071 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,656,721. A total of 76% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 90% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,445,015 for Pfizer and 1,202,817 for Moderna. A total of 57,205 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,705,037 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 49% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 697,361 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 562,456, Hudson 503,531, Morris 375,496, Passaic 341,472, Sussex 90,001, and Warren 58,471.