New Jersey Making Slow, Steady Progress to Universal COVID-19 Testing

LILO H. STAINTON | MAY 21, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Drive-up COVID-19 testing

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New Jersey officials said universal COVID-19 testing has now been completed at a handful of state-run facilities that house vulnerable populations — an initiative they announced on April 23. They are also working with local governments and private entities to expand public access to screenings.

Gov. Phil Murphy also announced Wednesday that Walmart has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to offer limited drive-through access to self-test kits at seven locations starting Friday. Walmart locations in Garfield, North Bergen, Kearny, Flemington, Burlington, Howell and Mt. Laurel will offer the service for two hours in the morning, three days a week; appointments and more information are available at MyQuestCOVIDTest.com.

Multiple CVS and RiteAid drugstores have already promised to offer testing by the end of the month — locations to be announced soon, Murphy said. And on Tuesday, the state empowered all licensed pharmacists to conduct screenings; there are more than 2,200 pharmacies statewide. There are approximately 140 public and private testing sites now operating in New Jersey, the governor noted.

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Beware of coronavirus contact tracing scams, N.J. officials warn. Thousands of fraud cases reported.

Posted May 20, 2020

New Jersey officials warned Wednesday that thousands of scams have been reported involving phony coronavirus contact tracers seeking to get information from residents with Gov. Phil Murphy saying those criminals have a “special place in hell.”

Officials warned residents to never give personal information like Social Security numbers and bank information if they are contacted by somebody who claims to be a contact tracer. Tracers don’t need that information.

The warning came as a rash of complaints were made of people receiving text messages saying they came in contact with someone who had COVID-19. The text messages ask people to follow links and then try and obtain private information, officials said.

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Port Authority boss worried about projects he’d have to axe without $3B in federal coronavirus aid

Posted May 20, 2020

Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton looked worried as he stood across a creek from the massive Terminal One construction site at Newark Liberty Airport.

The massive steel behemoth, where construction was nosily buzzing along, wasn’t his concern Wednesday afternoon. It was a $3 billion revenue drop that could force officials to chop other projects from the bi-state agency’s ambitious $20 billion, 10-year capital plan list.

Illustrating how much the coronavirus has crippled travel in two months, only one airliner could be heard taking off during his 20-minute outdoor press conference.

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Newark Hospital Announces Plans to Resume Elective Surgeries

Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark announced it would resume elective surgery beginning May 26.
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NEWARK, NJ - Saint Michael's Medical Center announced that it is resuming elective surgeries and invasive procedures starting May 26.

Governor Phil Murphy forced hospitals to suspend elective surgeries when he signed Executive Order 109 on March 23 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday,  the governor signed Executive Order 145 reversing the suspension and directing the state Health Department to issue guidelines for resuming elective surgeries.

Hospitals across the state have faced plummeting revenues and rising expenses during New Jersey’s COVID-19 crisis, which has had a severe impact on hospitals’ finances, with the statewide hospital operating margin plunging to negative 30 percent, according to a financial impact analysis from the New Jersey Hospital Association.

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As Stay-at-Home Order Continues, Some Are Calling for Checks on Governor’s Emergency Powers

COLLEEN O'DEA | MAY 21, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Not all legislators, some Democrats included, are happy that Gov. Phil Murphy is continuing to call all the shots.

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Two months ago, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all New Jerseyans to stay at home except in limited circumstances to stop the spread of COVID-19. It was his sixth order related to the novel coronavirus. He has since issued 40 more executive orders related to the pandemic.

With numbers of new cases now increasing at a much slower, though still steady, rate, Murphy has been taking baby steps to reopen the state, though still not lifting that stay-at-home order. People have gotten antsy, more businesses are defying restrictions and some politicians are calling for checks on the overarching powers a New Jersey governor — in this case, Murphy — has when he declares a state of emergency.

Republicans have introduced legislation in both the Senate and Assembly that would limit the amount of time a governor’s emergency order could remain in effect without legislative approval.

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New Jersey lowers Covid-19 death toll at long-term care facilities by 1,400

New Jersey on Tuesday lowered the number of reported coronavirus-related deaths at the state’s long-term care facilities by about 1,400, after health officials determined those residents had not received a lab-confirmed diagnosis for Covid-19 before they died.

The state will now report only lab-confirmed Covid-19 deaths occurring at long-term care facilities. As of Tuesday, that number was 4,295, down from nearly 5,700 on Monday.

This new method of recording deaths now matches how the state accounts for its overall Covid-19-related death toll, which as of Tuesday stood at 10,586, including 162 new deaths.

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Giants, Jets can likely play without fans amid coronavirus outbreak, Murphy says

Posted May 19, 2020

If the Giants or the Jets hit the field in MetLife Stadium, they’ll be likely to be playing minus the tens of thousands of spectators in the stands thanks to the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday evening.

The governor joined the ranks of officials like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who are willing to let major sports leagues open their seasons as long as fans cheer from home.

“I would be very surprised if we don’t end up in the same place,” Murphy said in an interview on SiriusXM after he was asked about Cuomo’s decision and the two teams that play in the Meadowlands.

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Let’s not go backward. Let’s rebuild better as we recover.

Posted May 19, 2020

By Peter Kasabach

Recovering from coronavirus op-ed

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Within a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has brought to the forefront a multitude of social, environmental, and economic challenges that have persisted in New Jersey long before this pandemic struck. When the virus is gone, these very same challenges will make us even more vulnerable to the next inevitable disaster unless we take radical actions to address them now.

Rather than viewing recovery as an effort to return to the pre-pandemic economic status quo, we need to view this phase as a much-needed turning point. We knew we shouldn’t rebuild things back the same way after Superstorm Sandy. And we shouldn’t do that now. An important emphasis during the recovery will be narrowly focused on restoring the economy. But a true recovery for New Jersey will go much further in making our communities stronger, healthier, and more resilient for everyone.

In announcing his Restart and Recovery Commission last month, Gov. Phil Murphy noted it will be charged with balancing “multiple competing needs to ensure we arrive at equitable decisions that work for every community in our state.” In order to do that, New Jersey’s recovery efforts must prioritize a focus on place. We know that the place where we live profoundly affects our physical and mental health, our ability to respond to disasters, and our economic opportunities. We also know that New Jersey remains a highly segregated state and place has long-been a predictor of inequity and vulnerability in the areas of health, resiliency, and income.

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Insurance Giant Rolls Out New Preventive Program, Adjusted for COVID-19

LILO H. STAINTON | MAY 20, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Newark resident Phyllis — who was caring for several foster children — purchased the home she had been renting for years, when the program helped her to make the right connections.

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After a successful pilot project in Newark — built largely around community health workers who visited people at home to help address medical and social concerns — and nearly a year of planning, New Jersey’s largest health insurer was ready to expand the initiative to reach 24,000 vulnerable patients in 11 counties.

Then came the coronavirus, and with it, new precautions and restrictions designed to contain the spread of COVID-19. Those pandemic protocols made it impossible for the company, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, to roll out the program as planned.

But the viral outbreak also underscored the importance of the program itself, Horizon officials note, so they decided to press forward — with modifications.

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New Jersey congressman says Trump’s coronavirus response should devote more ‘energy’ to public health

Rep. Andy Kim said Tuesday he wishes the White House would tackle the public health challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic with the same “energy” Trump administration officials have exhibited in moving to reopen the national economy.

“I think, for me, what frustrates me is I share that sentiment of wanting to reopen, to get Americans back to work as soon as possible,” the New Jersey Democrat told POLITICO chief economic correspondent Ben White in a virtual interview.

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“And I wish that that energy that the administration is pushing towards that is the same energy that they would bring towards testing and widespread contact tracing and other tools,” Kim continued.

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