A group of House Democrats in swing districts, including Rep. Mikie Sherrill, are urging President Joe Biden to support and help negotiate a targeted relief package to assist small businesses currently suffering from the recent surge in Omicron-variant transmission.
Sherrill, as part of the Frontline Members of Congress, wrote to the President the need to provide aid as consumer demand for businesses centered on in-person gatherings, such as restaurants and live venues, has been greatly impacted by the Omicron cases while workforce shortages for these industries have been exacerbated as transmission and hospitalizations rose.
“As we have met with small business owners and local elected officials over the past several months, we have heard unanimous concern about the impact of Omicron on the economic health of our communities,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to President Biden. “To this end, we urge the Administration to immediately work with Congress to pass a targeted small business relief package that focuses on the industries most hard-hit by the Omicron surge.”
The group, whose members represent broadly bipartisan districts, noted in-person dining fell by over 30% since the start of December 2021 in response to the worsening pandemic, live theater and musical performances cancellations have increased at an accelerating rate and overall retail sales nationwide fell by almost 2% in December, much worse than economists’ projections.
“In addition, the large rise in Omicron transmission has worsened staffing shortages for businesses in our districts, making it even more difficult for them to make ends meet,” the House members added.
Restart Previous Programs
The need for financial relief comes as small business relief programs available earlier in the pandemic are no longer in place, making it difficult for hard-hit businesses to make ends meet. Crucial elements of the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan—such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and Paycheck Protection Program—have largely expired, meaning that small businesses now have nowhere to turn to receive the assistance needed to stay afloat.
Sherrill and her fellow Congress Members said the nation could see a new wave of business closures in the coming months without additional, targeted assistance.
“This time is no different, and we ask that additional funding be appropriated to save our small businesses,” they wrote. “Without additional assistance, however, small businesses will face a wave of closures and bankruptcies that could cripple our communities.”
The federal lawmakers warned a surge in business closures could exacerbate the high prices and inflation facing across the U.S. The group includes representatives from Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada and Virginia.
What Sherrill is asking for is key grant programs including the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Shuttered Venue Operators Grants program be reopened to any eligible businesses that didn’t receive initial funding, made available for a second round of funding for hard-hit businesses where needed, and funded at such a level as to fully meet demand.
Additionally, the legislators are is looking for an expansion to other at-risk sectors centered on in-person gatherings be made eligible for federal assistance, including the travel and fitness industries and businesses offering indoor recreation and group activities.
“While not specifically included in previous rounds of support, these industries are critical to our physical and mental health needs that have been impacted by the pandemic,” they wrote.
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Feb. 15 was 1,856,029 with 1,350 total new PCR cases. There were 286 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 291,828. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,147,857.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 87 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,534. The state listed probable deaths at 2,949, bringing the overall total to 32,483. State officials noted 24 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Feb. 15, Bergen had a total of 145 new confirmed cases and 36 new probable cases, Essex 119 new cases and 25 new probable case, Hudson 105 new cases and 13 new probable cases, Morris 88 new confirmed cases and 13 new probable cases, Passaic 73 new cases and 18 new probable cases, Sussex 15 new cases and six new probable cases, and Warren 11 new cases and four new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,223, followed by Bergen at 3,055, Hudson with 2,451, Passaic at 2,088, Morris at 1,205, Sussex at 369, 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. 15, it increased to 0.53 from 0.50 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 10 was 4.5%; by region, the rate was 3.5% in the North, 5.0% in the Central region and 6.6% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 1,349 patients hospitalized as all 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Feb. 15. By region, there were 533 in the North, 457 in the Central and 404 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 251 are in intensive care units and 160 on ventilators. A total of 92 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 530 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 26,673 of the cases, broken down between 12,282 residents and 14,391 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,358 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,366 residents and 37,681 staff, for a total of 84,080.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,166 on Feb. 15. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,473 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,580,595 in-state, plus an additional 555,797 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,136,392 as of Feb. 15.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,464,732 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 6,687,009. 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 1,542,913 for Pfizer and 1,288,743 for Moderna. A total of 62,177 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,893,833 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 709,407 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 575,486, Hudson 515,221, Morris 380,579, Passaic 350,275, Sussex 91,201, and Warren 59,329.
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. 15, the state has tracked 503 school outbreaks and 3,433 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 19 outbreaks and 178 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 57 confirmed outbreaks with 328 cases, Morris County has 40 confirmed outbreaks with 246 cases, Essex County has 33 confirmed outbreaks with 232 cases, Passaic County has 22 confirmed outbreaks with 188 cases, Sussex has 34 confirmed outbreaks with 177 cases, Hudson County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 92 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.