‘Not time to bring people together,’ Murphy warns as death toll rises to 5, cases total 427
The novel coronavirus has infected at least 427 known people in New Jersey, reaching into all but three of the state’s 21 counties.
New Jersey officials on Wednesday announced 162 new cases since the previous day and reported that two more women had died, bringing the state’s death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, to five.
The pandemic has already brought much of the state to a grinding halt with malls and entertainment venues ordered closed indefinitely, eateries ordered to provide take-out or delivery service only, schools ordered closed, and all residents asked to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night. The same measures are being taken in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.
With massive layoffs in the restaurant industry, the state's unemployment lines were jammed this week as federal officials hammer out an economic stimulus deal to help Americans and industries.
Even religious institutions have postponed mass gatherings and celebrations to keep with Murphy’s order to keep gatherings of people to less than 50 people.
On Tuesday, police in Lakewood broke up two wedding parties that each had more than 50 guests.
Murphy on Wednesday said parents need to make sure their children also weren’t having house parties or underground events.
“Simply put, this is not a time for anyone to be bringing people together whether it be a wedding, a funeral … a religious rite of passage, a large birthday and anniversary or other party,” Murphy said during his daily news briefing.
“The fact of the matter is we mean it when we say 50 people.”
The two women whose deaths were revealed Wednesday lived in Essex and Hudson counties. Both are in their 60s and had underlying medical issues, officials said. More information about them was not immediately available.
New Jersey's cases have affected people ages 5 to 95.
State health officials, meanwhile, continue to work toward getting more hospital beds and space to deal with a potential surge of people seeking hospitalizing. More than half of all the people who have tested positive for the virus in New Jersey have required hospitalization, although that figure may change as testing becomes more widespread in the weeks ahead.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday that 199 additional hospital beds were being made available in hardest-hit North Jersey, 11 additional beds in Central Jersey and 50 in South Jersey. Officials expect 227 more beds to come online in about a month.
The need for hospital beds and facilities will become critical as the virus spreads, which is why government authorities have been promoting social distancing, self-quarantines and curfews in order to tamp down the spread of the disease and prevent medical facilities from being overwhelmed by patients.
She said with many more novel coronavirus cases expected in the coming weeks, health officials are working to develop surge and capacity planning.
She said a walk-through of the recently closed Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury revealed that the hospital can be reopened to provide another 300 beds for general acute care.
She said as a possible back up for even more space, the state is looking at nursing homes and buildings that are under construction that can be outfitted with medical gasses.
Persichilli said to meet the need for additional health care personnel, the state nurses association has put out “an alert to all nurses that hold an active or inactive license in the state for a call to action.”
She said additionally, an executive directive has been signed “that would authorize hospitals to use New Jersey certified mobile intensive care paramedics in their hospital settings to enhance and supplement the existing medical and nursing staff.”
Persichilli said to assist local health departments across New Jersey as they investigate different COVID-19 cases, Perry Halkitis, the dean of the Rutgers University school of public health, has been asked to connect his students with local health departments in order to provide extra resources.
David Matthau contributed to this report.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.