Nursing homes and long-term care facilities were among some of the hardest hit places early in the coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey and throughout the United States.
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy revealed new health department benchmarks aimed at returning long-term care facilities to more normality.
The state health department is releasing directives that will allow for visitors and normal operations at long-term care facilities.
"We’re preparing to commit $155 million to the reopening of our long-term care facilities to ensure we get this right," Murphy said. The money will be a mix of federal of state money.
Around $25 million will be for testing. Of the remaining $130 million, the first-term Democrat said 60% of the funding must "flow directly to our nursing home workforce."
The rest of the millions will go to the long-term care facilities that can attest to meeting benchmark requirements to help them with infection control procedures, cleaning and other measures.
Months back, the state hired consulting firm Manatt Health to determine a course of action to help move long-term care facilities forward amid the deadly virus.
"This directive will also establish: Strong baseline infection-control measures, requirements for PPE stockpiling and requirements for resident and staff testing – including weekly coronavirus tests for all staff," Murphy said.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the new directive she signed allows for "essential caregiver visits" to be phased in over four phases. There are a series of requirements in place for the visits to take place.
Facilities can't have an active outbreak for 28 days and must supply their plan to the health department -- among other requirements -- to reopen, she said.
Facilities that attest to meeting requirements but are found not to meet them "will be fined," Persichilli said.
Murphy paused reopenings in his state as data points like the rate of transmission ticked up above 1. As of Monday, however the rate the virus is spread from a positive person to others was down to 0.98.
“We are thankfully now below 1,” Murphy said.
Murphy, however warned that certain actions could push the spread of COVID-19 up again. He noted pack lines of young people waiting to get into Jersey Shore bars over the weekend. Few of those in line wearing masks.
He called waiting in line without a mask and in close proximity is a "knucklehead move."
"Your responsibility to help stop the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t go on 'pause' when you’re standing in line," Murphy said. "This virus could easily spread through the line. This is not a game."
Murphy said that even if bars are doing the right thing on premises that they could still be closed if patrons don't get on the same page. He said everyone has now been warned.
"I’m going to give everyone a chance to do the right thing," Murphy said. "But if we have to shut places down to protect public health, then we will."
Murphy is looking to prevent a second wave of the virus. Cases and deaths in the Garden State have remained far below the pandemic highs experienced in the spring.
As of Monday, more than 185,000 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in New Jersey. At least 14,025 deaths -- four more announced Monday -- were being attributed to the virus with another nearly 1,900 deaths suspected to be related to coronavirus complications.