State Senate Republicans’ efforts to gain more information about the settlements of families whose loved ones died at New Jersey Veterans Homes from COVID and the state have been rebuffed.
According to State Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24) and State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26), Open Public Records Act (OPRA) were filed seeking details from the Murphy Administration’s about a $53 million settlement for veterans home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OPRA requests targeted documents relating to the state’s agreement announced Dec. 23, 2021 with the families of 119 seniors in veterans homes whose deaths were attributed to COVID and the actions, or lack of action taken by the administration that caused these possibly avoidable tragedies.
“This is what we have come to expect from an Administration that continues to obfuscate the facts, details and rationale behind pandemic-related decisions,” said Pennacchio, who continued his call for a Legislative Oversight Committee with subpoena power. “They have consistently denied access to what should be public information. It is clear this information will never be forthcoming unless the Administration is forced.”
Republicans on Jan. 4 requested a series of public records related to the settlement. According to Oroho and Pennacchio, the Governor’s office, Attorney General’s office, and the Department of Health and Human Services all rebuffed their requests while the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said they needed more time and gave no indication of when a response could be expected.
Oroho stressed that while the GOP’s priority is putting this pandemic nightmare behind us—”it is time to stop with the masks and the mandates and emerge from the pall of the COVID outbreak”—there are questions that demand answers.
“The legislature and the administration need to work together to responsibly restore normalcy to our schools, businesses and lives,” said Oroho. “(However,) the Administration should recognize the questions aren’t going away and stop stonewalling. Among other pressing issues, the truth needs to come out about the loss of life in nursing homes and the role the Administration’s policies played in the tragic outcomes, if for no reason other than ensuring these mistakes aren’t repeated in any future emergency we might face.”
The Murphy administration denied a prior OPRA request from Senate Republicans seeking documents transmitted by the Department of Law & Public Safety to the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice pursuant to a federal investigation into pandemic-related nursing and veterans home deaths.
Pennacchio noted the specifics about the settlement sought in the OPRA requests could shed light on poor decisions leading to the deaths of 10,000 seniors in private nursing homes impacted by the Governor’s orders.
“Details and timing of settlement may reveal the extent of discussions about the role of the state’s orders forcing homes to accept COVID-positive patients and preventing the testing of new residents for the virus. This policy applied to the more than 500 facilities in the state,” Pennacchio said.
With data presumably affected by the Winter weeknd storm, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Jan. 31 was 1,826,394 with 1,987 total new PCR cases—the lowest total for a day since Nov. 29, 2021. There were 255 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 285,462. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,111,856.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 22 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 28,523. The state listed probable deaths at 2,919, bringing the overall total to 31,440. State officials noted 42 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 31, Bergen had a total of 219 new confirmed cases and 29 new probable cases, Essex 115 new cases and five new probable case, Hudson 114 new cases and five new probable cases, Morris 107 new confirmed cases and five new probable cases, Passaic 94 new cases and seven new probable cases, Sussex 38 new cases and three new probable cases, and Warren 35 new cases and no new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,136, followed by Bergen at 2,972, Hudson with 2,386, Passaic at 2,029, Morris at 1,174, Sussex at 351, and Warren County at 285.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 31, Bergen has 331, Essex has 309, Morris has 280, Hudson has 224, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 80 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 31, it increased to 0.55 from 0.54 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 26 was 11.5%; by region, the rate was 8.9% in the North, 13.1% in the Central region and 16.8% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 2,926 patients hospitalized as all but one of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 31—under 3,000 for the second day in a row since Dec. 27, 2021. By region, there were 1,119 in the North, 1,000 in the Central and 807 in the South—the first time under 1,000 since New Year’s Day. Of those hospitalized, 511 are in intensive care units and 432 on ventilators. A total of 191 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 565 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 25,667 of the cases, broken down between 11,885 residents and 13,782 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,354 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 45,431 residents and 36,604 staff, for a total of 82,496.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,021 on Jan. 31. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,406 residents deaths and 148 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with 64.3% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 10,938 and new staff cases 2,586 in the last week as of Jan. 23. Cumulatively, 117,884 cases have been reported— 92,102 students and 25,782 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 26, the state has tracked 432 school outbreaks and 2,683 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 26 outbreaks and 318 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 53 confirmed outbreaks with 314 cases, Morris County has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 200 cases, Passaic County has 21 confirmed outbreaks with 178 cases, Sussex has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 167 cases, Essex County has 27 confirmed outbreaks with 142 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 13,413,646 in-state, plus an additional 546,729 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,960,375 as of Jan. 31.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,366,948 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 219,351 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,586,299. 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 1,468,160 for Pfizer and 1,220,497 for Moderna. A total of 58,237 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,746,894 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 49% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 699,407 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 564,873, Hudson 505,928, Morris 376,179, Passaic 342,744, Sussex 90,184, and Warren 58,605.