TRENTON – Some immunized workers at the state Motor Vehicle Commission are spending two weeks in quarantine through a note from their doctor despite being protected from the novel coronavirus, the state health commissioner told lawmakers Tuesday.

MVC agencies continue to close each time an employee tests positive for COVID-19, covering the two-week period after that person was last in the office, although that approach is changing. An MVC spokesman said one-quarter of agencies are no longer subject to blanket closures because they're full vaccinated, with others to follow.

But Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli indciated challenges remain in testimony before the Senate budget committee.

“We are hearing now that employees who do not have to quarantine for the full 14 days, they are getting notes from their private physicians saying that the private physician is mandating two-week, 14-day quarantine,” Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

“They are putting in a more stringent requirement than the CDC or our own Communicable Disease Service,” she said. “Is that at the urging of the employee? It could very well be. You know how these things occur. But we want to clarify that information gap, as well, because there does not have to be we believe as many closures as there are.”

At least one of the 39 MVC agencies has been closed every day since Sept. 28, peaking at 16 of them in mid-December. A combined 129 closures have been announced. Every agency has closed at least once, including seven times at North Bergen and six apiece at Cherry Hill, Delanco, Eatontown and Paterson.

“Are we permitting people that are vaccinated to quarantine for two weeks after an exposure?” asked Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth.

“If they have a doctor’s note, we cannot oversede the doctor’s note,” Persichilli said.

O’Scanlon said “that’s troubling” and that if it’s more than an anecdotal issue but “rampant, then we have a bigger problem.”

O’Scanlon said no other type of business closes for two weeks every time an employee tests positive for COVID.

“Even if some people have to quarantine who are close to someone, it’s just ridiculous,” O’Scanlon said. “And people are laughing at the state government for still having these perpetual closures where every other private industry ain’t doing it.”

“Virtually within a few days, we should be able to prioritize these folks and get everybody who wants the vax, get it, so we can end these closures. And look, it doesn’t feel like these closures are necessary, anyway,” O’Scanlon said.

Persichilli said MVC was one of the state’s “highest-priority places to get vaccinated” and that the state set aside 1,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine for that purposes, but that plan stalled as soon as it was beginning when the J&J was temporarily halted over concerns about side effects.

“After the pause, we then allocated J&J and Moderna to start vaccinating employees at MVC,” Persichilli said.

So far, Persichilli said, 473 of the 2,000 allocated doses have been administered to MVC workers.

MVC spokesman William Connolly said all agencies will have gotten at least their first doses of the vaccine by the end of the week.

"At this time, nine of 39 agencies have been able to get fully vaccinated, and are past the 14-days-after-final-shot point, so they are no longer subject to blanket closure," Connolly said.

"The first shot of the Moderna vaccine has taken place at 24 other agencies," he said. "We expect to finish first shots of Moderna or J&J for all customer-facing employees by the end of this week, as the timeline was pushed back slightly due to agencies closed due to COVID-19."

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The MVC’s chief administrator, Sue Fulton, has said the closures are needed after COVID+ tests because employees work in small areas without social distancing and that it’s the recommendation of the state Health Department.

But that approach is changing. Persichilli said her department has asked the MVC agencies to provide it a point of contact at each office that can be provided to local health departments, so there can be better coordination in responding to infections.

“We were noticed just a couple of weeks ago from local health departments that they’re not getting the information or being sought out for advice on things like closures,” Persichilli said.

“So, there’s a gap there in communication, and we plan to close that gap,” she said. “Asking for a point of contact at every MVC office so that we can examine the cases with them and make the best decisions about whether a place needs to be closed or not.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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