Two North Jersey State Senators—a Republican and a Democrat—are calling for an investigation into how New Jersey handled its response to the coronavirus pandemic at nursing homes.
Introduced Feb. 10 by State Sens. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) and Nia Gill (D-34), SR-48 would create a special seven-member committee with subpoena power to probe what happened in long-term care facilities.
Under the measure, the panel would investigate “all aspects of the effects of state actions, executive orders and actions, legislation, regulation and state policies on nursing homes, nursing home residents and their families, and nursing home employees.”
Targeting Nursing Homes
According to the resolution, the Nursing Home Pandemic Response Investigation Committee would be appointed by the State Senate President and no more than four members can be from the same political party.
In a tweet announcing the measure, Gill wrote, “For New Jerseyans to get the answers they deserve, we must have a transparent and public investigation.”
Bipartisan Support ‘Encouraging To See’
“We must have a comprehensive report on how our system of care failed seniors and their families and how we can improve these systems going forward,” she said. “With variants of COVID-19 posing a continuing risk to seniors and other medically at-risk individuals, our state must form a comprehensive and forward-thinking pandemic response plan to ensure the safety of long-term care residents.”
Following the bill’s introduction, Pennacchio thanked Gill for reaching across the aisle to team up on such a “poignant issue.”
“It is encouraging to see bipartisan support for an inquiry,” said Pennacchio. “Without an official forum, it is obvious New Jersey residents will never learn the truth about what happened in the nursing homes and what could have been done to prevent the tragedies and save lives.”
Continued Push For Select Committee
Since May 2020, Pennacchio has been pushing for a bipartisan select committee with subpoena power to review the Murphy administration’s pandemic response efforts.
The Morris County lawmaker has been stymied as Senate Democrats have blocked his efforts to bring the resolution (SR-68) up for a vote by the New Jersey Senate on five separate occasions over 19 months—including as recently as Dec. 20, 2021.
He renewed his call last month following news that the state had reached a $52.9 million settlement with the families of 119 veterans who died at state-run LTC facilities in Paramus and Menlo Park during the early days of the pandemic.
Plaintiffs claimed the facilities directed staff not to wear masks and gloves because it “might scare residents” and failed to enact proper infection control procedures until several months into the pandemic, including allowing employees who tested positive for COVID-19 to return to work.
Ongoing Investigations Into State’s Response
Murphy’s administration came under fire after a March 31, 2020 directive barring nursing and veterans homes from turning away patients who tested positive for coronavirus—an order that was later rescinded.
Between the state’s three military veterans homes in Menlo Park, Paramus and Vineland, more than 200 resident deaths have been recorded, one of the highest death tolls in the country. The fatality rate prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a civil rights probe in October 2020, saying that there was “cause for concern that the quality of medical care at these nursing homes has been deficient.”
Separately, the state attorney general has an open investigation at how New Jersey’s long-term care facilities responded to the public health emergency.
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Feb. 14 was 1,854,702 with 908 total new PCR cases (under 1,000 for a day for the first time since early November, 2021). There were 229 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 291,583. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,146,285.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 15 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,450. The state listed probable deaths at 2,949, bringing the overall total to 32,399. State officials noted 19 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Feb. 14, Bergen had a total of 81 new confirmed cases and 61 new probable cases, Essex 64 new cases and six new probable case, Hudson 57 new cases and eight new probable cases, Morris 48 new confirmed cases and seven new probable cases, Passaic 55 new cases and 12 new probable cases, Sussex 10 new cases and no new probable cases, and Warren 15 new cases and no new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,218, followed by Bergen at 3,049, Hudson with 2,443, Passaic at 2,083, Morris at 1,201, Sussex at 366, and Warren County at 303.
In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 14, Bergen has 321, Essex has 311, Morris has 291, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 200, Sussex has 83 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Feb. 14, it remained at 0.50 for the second day in a row. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 9 was 4.5%; by region, the rate was 3.3% in the North, 5.3% in the Central region and 7.2% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 1,429 patients hospitalized as all 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Feb. 14. By region, there were 541 in the North, 464 in the Central and 424 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 255 are in intensive care units and 164 on ventilators. A total of 168 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 535 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 26,717 of the cases, broken down between 12,331 residents and 14,386 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,357 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,356 residents and 37,642 staff, for a total of 83,998.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,166 on Feb. 14. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,471 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,575,009 in-state, plus an additional 555,797 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,130,806 as of Feb. 14.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,461,753 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 222,277 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,684,030. With just under 8.5 million eligible in New Jersey to be vaccinated, 77% are fully vaccinated and 91% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,541,181 for Pfizer and 1,286,094 for Moderna. A total of 62,005 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,889,280 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 51% of the 5.6 million of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 709,160 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 575,116, Hudson 514,948, Morris 380,434, Passaic 349,996, Sussex 91,181, and Warren 59,319.
According to the state dashboard with 64.6% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 3,910 and new staff cases 1,036 in the last week as of Feb. 6. Cumulatively, 132,263 cases have been reported— 103,614 students and 28,649 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Feb. 8, the state has tracked 484 school outbreaks and 3,255 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 19 outbreaks and 117 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 55 confirmed outbreaks with 304 cases, Morris County has 40 confirmed outbreaks with 241 cases, Essex County has 31 confirmed outbreaks with 225 cases, Passaic County has 22 confirmed outbreaks with 188 cases, Sussex has 34 confirmed outbreaks with 183 cases, Hudson County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 92 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.