Murphy now ‘99%’ sure to order schools closed Monday over coronavirus
For districts that have not yet taken matters into their own hands, New Jersey public and private schools would be ordered closed Monday with "99% certainty," Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday, amid the state's increasing novel coronavirus threat.
Murphy said he stopped short of saying it with 100% confidence due to the roughly "210,000 kids who rely on schools for food" and the thousands who also don’t have access to a technical device that allows for remote learning. He said those were still issues being addressed by state officials.
Another round of positive results announced during Sunday's state briefing brought the total number of known COVID-19 cases based on testing to just under 100 in NJ, with patients in 13 out of 21 counties. However, state-level counts have been changing quickly, sometimes lagging behind locally reported cases. In some cases, state-level counts have adjusted numbers for individual counties down, even as the state's overall count rises by the day.
Murphy also teased other more aggressive efforts being planned for Monday to shake up "business as usual." He said he had seen "too many videos of packed bars" in the state as recently as Saturday night, and that clipping establishments' operating hours each night would do more toward social distancing.
During a daily media briefing Sunday, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said she cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to avoid gatherings, whether small or large.
She said she did not know of any underlying health conditions for a Monmouth County woman who died of COVID-19, as announced Saturday — the state's second death known to be related to the novel coronavirus. But she said that woman and several other COVID-19 patients had been exposed at a family gathering.
Persichilli also said the woman's brother was friends with the Bergen County man who was the state's first COVID-19 death.
Bergen County accounts for nearly a third of the state's known COVID-19 cases, followed by Middlesex, Monmouth and Essex and Hudson Counties, each with roughly a dozen positive test results, so far.
Persichilli also confirmed that after "an exposure situation in the emergency room at Bayshore Medical Center," a number of workers, primarily nurses, had gone into quarantine and the Monmouth County facility now was diverting patients to other facilities, amid staffing shortages.
As of Sunday, Secaucus was the site of New Jersey's first drive-through testing facility, offered by private health care provider Riverside Medical Group, by appointment only. Bergen County was poised to launch more wide-scale testing facility Monday.
Murphy said when it comes to dramatically increasing COVID-19 testing, he believed it was a matter of days away, and that it would start in places with the widest exposure, which put Bergen County at the top of the list. He also repeated his previous statement that private sector labs have the scale and speed to turnaround more rapid testing.
Persichilli said she would be speaking with county executives later Sunday about their needs, which she said would include not just drive-through testing facilities, but the opportunity for symptomatic people to do testing in their own homes.
At a Newark press conference earlier Sunday, Essex County's executive said he would ideally like to see two drive-through testing facilities, when they became available. He said the sobering reality that a person could test negative for COVID-19 one day, only to start showing symptoms two days later.
Murphy also said there was a childcare reality to be considered in shutting down all NJ schools, many of which relate to healthcare workers currently dealing with the COVID-19 threat, firsthand.
A duration for school closings was not available as of Sunday afternoon, as those plans were still ongoing, according to Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet.
Neither Murphy nor Repollet clarified a possible timeline for the closures, but remaining schools were scheduled to start their classes Monday morning, while the next state briefing was set for 2 p.m.
There also were no specifics disclosed Sunday as to how those remaining districts would be handling accommodations of school lunches or internet connectivity and devices.
Among districts in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases that remained on regular schedules for Monday, were Elizabeth public schools in Union County and Lakewood public schools in Ocean County.
When asked about Atlantic City casinos remaining open, Murphy said Sunday he would revisit the "number intense" recommendation against discouraging crowds of 250 or more in one place.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small declared a state of emergency in the city as of Friday, as announced during a Facebook Live video Saturday night. As of Sunday, there were no known positive cases of COVID-19 in Atlantic County, based on testing.