What to Know
- As of Thursday afternoon, at least 81 people had died and more than 6,876 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
- On Wednesday, Murphy signed an executive order requiring child-care centers to close by April 1 unless they certify that they are solely serving children of essential workers.
- The Atlantic City Convention Center is being tabbed to be turned into a temporary field hospital.
New Jersey is dealing with a huge increase in its number of new coronavirus cases in the state -- and a jump in the number of deaths as well.
Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy said there had been 19 new deaths from the virus in the state. So far, 81 people have died of COVID-19 disease in the state.
The state reported 2,492 new diagnoses on Thursday, bringing its case toal to 6,876.
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Now the state is ramping up efforts to increase hospital capacity as they wait for infections to peak.
The Push to Increase Hospital Capacity
Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the state is working with health systems and the Army Corps. of Engineers to add an additional 2,360 acute care beds statewide.
"We’ve also identified three locations where temporary hospitals can be stood-up, one in each region of our state – north, central, and south – a total additional 1,000 beds that can be activated in just a matter of days and weeks," Murphy said at Wednesday afternoon's news conference.
The first of those centers is the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus, where work had already begun as of Wednesday, health officials said. The Atlantic City Convention Center in South Jersey and the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison are the other two planned field hospital locations.
Work on the A.C. convention center hadn't started as of Wednesday.
New Jersey currently has more than 18,000 acute care hospital beds - 2,000 of those for critical care.
“These steps will allow us to expand hospital capacity in the short term and ensure a proper continuum of care for those who need it,” Murphy said.
Another location being prepared for an acute care facility is the former Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, Gloucester County, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
Persichilli said that she expects for the peak in cases in hard-hit Bergen and Hudson counties to come in the next two to three weeks.
"We will fight to save every single life," Murphy said. "We will leave nothing on the battlefield in that effort. There is no cost that is too high to save any one precious life."
Day Cares Must Be Essential or Close
Day cares and child care centers were added to the school closures list on Wednesday. The change is effective as of April 1, unless they can certify that they are "solely serving children of essential workers." Centers that stay open must certify by Friday, March 27.
Family Leave and Disability Benefits
Gov. Murphy also signed legislation to expand New Jersey's Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) and Family Leave Insurance (FLI) programs to provide more workers with access to paid leave benefits during public health emergencies.
“No one should have to decide between taking care of themselves or a sick family member and going to work during this pandemic," Murphy said. “With this new law, we are providing hardworking men and women with the protections that they deserve and ensuring a healthier place to live and work.”
The legislation expands the definition of "serious health condition," allowing people access to TDI and FLI benefits during a public health emergency if they have to take time off work due to being diagnosed with or exposed to a communicable disease or having to take care of a family member in the same situation. The bill also allows the use of earned sick time for quarantine or isolation.
More Testing Centers Coming Online
New Jersey is expanding its drive-thru testing centers for coronavirus, especially in the hard-hit northern part of the state.
Essex County officials said Wednesday that a drive-thru testing center would be opening Thursday in Newark's Weequahic Park. A drive-through facility for Passaic County residents opened Wednesday at William Paterson University.
In Essex, appointments are mandatory, according to a statement from Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. Residents should go to the county's website to complete a screening form and make an appointment.
In Passaic, county residents must have a referral from a doctor, Murphy said earlier this week.
The testing centers join other facilities for county-only residents at Kean University in Union and Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus. There are two federally operated centers in Bergen and Monmouth counties for residents statewide.
The state is getting some federal assistance in its fight.
Murphy said that the $2 trillion federal relief package helps but that he expects they will need more help to get the state running again once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
More Businesses Deemed Essential
On Tuesday, Murphy expanded the kinds of businesses that are permitted to operate while the state's COVID-19 emergency orders are in place. The list of businesses considered essential now includes:
— Mobile phone retail and repair shops
— Bicycle shops, but only to provide service and repair
— Livestock feed stores
— Nurseries and garden centers
— Farming equipment stores
The list also includes groceries and supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations.
New Complaint Form
The Murphy administration also unveiled a new online form for workers to fill out if their employers are requiring them to show up to work in violation of the state's executive order requiring people to remain home, except for certain essential businesses.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.