New Jersey will launch a new council to hear from business owners about reopening as the state expands the availability of testing certain asymptomatic people for the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy said in a news conference Friday.
The Restart and Recovery Advisory Council will be composed of industry, faith and other leaders to hear from residents and business owners about reopening, Murphy said at the Trenton War Memorial. The council is separate from, but related to, the Governor's Restart and Recovery Commission announced late last month.
The council will focus on nine specific parts of the economy including construction, main street retail and office work.
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“This is a boots on the ground, real world approach to how we move forward,” Murphy said. “Reopening the restaurants and boardwalk shops down the shore is far different from restarting retail in Morristown, Lambertville, Collingswood, or anywhere else.”
He and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli went through their usual review of the numbers of cases - there were 1,985 new cases for a total of 135,454 since the outbreak began. Some patients have recovered, and the overall rate of hospitalization is down. And the most serious concentrations of new cases are now in South Jersey, according to maps displayed a the news briefing.
But the two officials also revealed a concerning case - a 4-year-old child who died from the virus. The child is the first COVID-19 fatality in the state younger than 18, Murphy said. Persichilli said the child had an underlying medical condition, which was not specified. They offered no further information Friday after being asked about the case by multiple reporters.
Testing the asymptomatic
The state runs two testing centers not in our area - one at Bergen Community College in North Jersey, and another at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Monmouth County. Those centers filled up quickly in the first weeks they were open.
"We were consistently not maxing out as of late at Bergen and PNC," Murphy said.
While the state was prioritizing individuals showing symptoms, the virus can be spread from people who show no symptoms. Asymptomatic health care workers and first responders, nursing home and similar personnel, and close contacts with a confirmed positive case will take priority at those sites.
The state is shutting down its overflow field hospital in the Meadowlands, which saw 268 patients, Murphy said. 251 have been discharged and the remainder will move to East Orange General Hospital. Supplies from the field will move into state storage and could be deployed elsewhere, he added.
“While we are pleased with this progress, our hospitals are still dealing with more patients than they would any other year,” Murphy said.
Beaches and reopening
In response to a question about when beaches might reopen, and what would need to happen first, Murphy said: “The curves that we look at every day have got to continue moving down.”
“Going to the beach will be an experience that in some ways will feel like it always has, and in some ways like it never has,” he said.
SNAP benefits continuing
Since the pandemic emergency began, $106 million was added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Persichilli said.
The state is extending benefits for 6 months to anyone in the program up for renewal in May or June, and waiving a requirement for a hard-copy signature, to reduce face-to-face interactions. More information is at NJHelps.org.