With car dealerships reopened, retailers doing curbside pickup and the Jersey Shore beaches set to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, New Jersey is slowly restarting from coronavirus closures. Gov. Phil Murphy credits testing and a slowing of the spread of COVID-19 to helping the state reopen.
Murphy and health officials have put a focus on COVID-19 testing. As testing increases, the daily positivity rate has been trending downward, Murphy said at his Wednesday coronavirus news briefing.
In recent weeks, hospitalizations, ICU patients and COVID-19 cases have been decreasing in New Jersey, allowing for the first-term Democrat to slowly reopen some businesses and public spaces. The total number of hospitalizations is half of what it was one month ago.
"The curve continues to move in the right direction overall," Murphy said.
However, the deadly virus continues to spread across the hard-hit Garden State. As of Wednesday, more than 150,000 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus and at least 10,747 people died from coronavirus complications. In the past 24 hours 168 new deaths were reported.
"No one deserves to be relegated to a statistic," Murphy somberly said. "We’re one family. We rise and fall as one. We celebrate and mourn as one, too."
Murphy didn't announce any new reopenings Wednesday, but did say the "baby steps" toward restarting the state will continue Thursday. He continued to urge people to practice social-distancing and wear a mask in public.
Drive-up Self-Swab Testing at Walmarts
Starting Friday, people can get tested for COVID-19 at seven Walmart locations throughout the state, Murphy said.
The testing appointments will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 7 to 9. Drive-up testing sites will be set up outside so symptomatic people don't need to enter the stores.
Walmart and its testing partner Quest Diagnostics will then work to return results within two days.
"A strong testing program is one of the foundational principles for our Road Back," Murphy said.
The expanded testing comes after Murphy said earlier this week the number of tests available is greater than people seeking them. The state is pushing to double the number of daily tests from about 9,000 a day to 20,000 by the end of the month, Murphy has said.
“We have now cobbled it together such that we’re among the most-tested states in America and our capacity is now exceeding ... the demand by a meaningful amount right now,” Murphy said. .
Testing, Contact Tracing in Long-Term Care Facilities, Cities and Farms
The New Jersey Department of Health is focusing on testing people at long-term facilities, group homes, correctional facilities, densely-populated cities and more places across the Garden State. Staff and residents at facilities are being tested. Migrant farms workers are also being tested and guidance is being issued to farm owners to help slow the spread.
Contact tracing is also being increased in an attempt to track the viral spread.
Residents should be wary, however, of anyone texting or calling claiming to be a COVID-19 contact tracer asking for social security numbers, health commissioner Judy Persichilli said. The department is hearing of a rising number of scams, she said.
Contact tracers don't ask for social security numbers or any bank account or credit card information, said Dr. Christina Tan, the state epidemiologist. She says the tracers will identify themselves in calls as an employee with whichever local or county health department the person works for.
The tracer will “build trust," Tan said, by providing information about the virus, what proper precautions are and what a person should do if he or she has symptoms.
The calls can take 20 minutes.
Murphy said there "is a special place in Hell" for people trying to scheme others during the pandemic.
SNAP Recipients Can Soon Buy Groceries Online
People enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can soon purchase groceries through Amazon and participating Fresh Grocer, ShopRite and Walmart locations, the Department of Human Services announced Wednesday. Amazon sales begin May 27 with the other participants accepting SNAP benefits starting May 28.
“Having the option to order groceries online is more important than ever, as we all work together to stay-at-home as much as possible,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said.
About 700,000 people in 356,000 households receive SNAP benefits from the state.
DHS has details about how to use your EBT card for online groceries on its website.
Mask Up, New Jersey
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection unveiled a publicity campaign Wednesday to urge people to wear face coverings outdoors in public places including beaches and parks.
The “Mask Up!” campaign includes posters to be placed at entrances to sate and local beaches and parks, urging people to wear a mask to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“New Jerseyans are eager to get outside and this signage campaign helps our community leaders to remind their residents to do so safely,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. “I hope that cities and towns across the state download and print these new posters and display them prominently in their parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces. Wearing a mask while near others outdoors is an important way to keep all New Jerseyans from spreading COVID-19.”
Last week, Murphy gave guidance to local towns on reopening their beaches amid the pandemic, including adopting social distancing, limiting the number of people allowed on a beach, and frequent sanitation of rest rooms, showers and changing facilities.