New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is urging New Jersey residents to not only answer the phone when a coronavirus contact tracer calls, but to answer the tracer's questions.
At his Friday coronavirus news briefing, the first-term Democrat said that less than half of the people reached by contact tracers will answer basic questions aimed at gathering data about the spread of COVID-19.
"No one is out on a witch hunt," Murphy said. "No one is asking questions that have any focus other than trying to stop the spread of this virus."
Contact tracers won't ask for personal information like Social Security number and immigration status, the governor said.
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Just under two-thirds of people contact tracers reached out to answered the call, Murphy said. And, nearly half of all contacts were notified of their exposure.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the goal is to have 100% cooperation with contact tracers.
Murphy noted that is nowhere near being accomplished.
"Forty-five percent of those who have tested positive for coronavirus and answered the call refused to provide any contact information to our contact tracers," Murphy said.
Those not answering the phone or questions have skewed toward minors who attended house parties, Murphy said.
Persichilli said those who don't cooperate are hindering the data and "are unknowingly contributing to the spread of this virus in our state.”
On Friday, Murphy announced a new dashboard that shows where the state's 1,344 contact tracers are operating. He touted that currently there are 15 tracers per 100,000 residents.
The goal is to get more contact tracers online so that there are 30 tracers per 100,000 people.
Now, it's up to those who may have been exposed to answer the phone.
“For each other and for us all please take the call," Persichilli said.
Millions for Small Rental Property Landlords
Calling smaller rental properties "investments in communities," Murphy on Friday announced the $25-million Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program.
The program will deliver payments from the state's CARES Act money to the owners of small rental properties (three to 10 renters) with low- to moderate rents to cover coronavirus-related losses, Murphy said.
"By assisting small landlords, we’re helping to secure quality rental housing by protecting their investment in the maintenance of their properties," Murphy said.
The program will also support renters hit by the coronavirus pandemic to have back rent forgiven "and reducing the risks for evictions once the statewide moratorium expires," Murphy said, while noting the moratorium will continue until after the public health emergency expires.
One out of three renters in New Jersey lives in a three- to 10-unit property.
The program will help cover rents for up to four months of missed payments from April to July, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said. The landlords, many of the "mom-and-pop" variety, must pass the payments onto their tenants.
Murphy has paused reopening several weeks ago as the rate of transmission – the amount of people an infected person spreads to virus to – began to tick up. As of Friday, Rt was down to 1.15 but still above 1, which Murphy noted is a key milestone.
The state has, however, seen mostly steady case amounts and lower hospitalizations for several weeks with daily reported deaths recently in the single digits after being in the hundreds during the state’s infection peak in the spring.
With 12 new deaths announced Friday, at least 14, 007 people had died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. More than 184,000 positive COVID-19 tests have been reported in New Jersey.
Murphy reminded people to stay socially-distant, not attend indoor house parties and wear face coverings in public to keep the state's coronavirus numbers down.