HEALTH

NJ health officials shift from containment to mitigation of coronavirus

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

With 11 presumed positive cases of coronavirus now in New Jersey, Gov. Murphy on Monday declared a state of emergency and a public health emergency, effective immediately, in an effort to contain the further spread of coronavirus in the state.

State officials on Monday announced five new coronavirus cases; a 27-year-old man from Little Silver, who was probably infected at a medical conference in Boston; and an 83-year-old woman from Hazlet; a 48-year-old from Berkeley Heights in Union County; a 30-year-old in Teaneck; and an 18-year-old in Clifton whose case is linked to the exploding coronavirus cluster around a New Rochelle synagogue in New York.

“What we’re seeing right now in New Jersey is associated, for example, with New York cases, with out-of-state cases. They’re clustering around known COVID-19 cases,” said state epidemiologist Tina Tam.

“We have 11 cases. Primarily in the north, very few in the south, although they’re beginning,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “To see additional cases is concerning, but it is not unexpected. It follows the trend that we’re seeing around the rest of the country and in fact the world.”

The state’s got 24 persons under investigation with local test results pending. So far about half of New Jersey’s counties await coronavirus test results. Port Authority Chief Rick Cotton tested positive, according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“He’s executive director of the Port Authority, so he’s been at the airports obviously, when many people were coming back with the virus. He’ll be working from home,” said Cuomo.

Also working from home will be Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona who socialized last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a 55-year-man old from Englewood who tested positive. New Jersey health officials are moving from containment to mitigation to actively block the spread of the disease. In Bergen County, which has the largest number of cases, the executive is considering banning large gatherings and limiting visits at nursing homes.

“Because we’re seeing the increase in Bergen, we believe it’s prudent to start to take these steps, right? Never want to play catch up. With this, you play catch up, you lose and people become very ill, people die. That’s what we want to prevent,” said Jim Tedesco.

New Jersey still hasn’t gotten its presumed positive test results confirmed by the CDC as of Monday morning.

“At this time, we are unaware of exactly what is causing that delay,” said New Jersey Assistant Commissioner of Health Chris Neuwirth.

State health officials recommended residents stockpile enough supplies — including food and medications — for a 14-day quarantine. At a Rutgers School of Public Health panel, Sen Bob Smith said bills are pending to help residents worried about paying for coronavirus tests.

“One of out biggest concerns is that you’re going to have people not taking advantage of the testing procedure because of the cost, so the state of New Jersey will very quickly change our Medicaid rules. Likewise Sen. Vitale has legislation that will make certain our private insurers will do the same thing,” said Smith.

But local mayors are worried:how are towns going to provide for quarantined residents? Where will they get masks for first responders?

“There is going to be a logistics nightmare. It will. It’s no different than when there’s a massive tornado […] It’s always logistics. Who do you triage first and what happens?” said Brian Wahler, the mayor of Piscataway.

“It constantly comes up, about pushing out these diagnostic tests and the masks. All I can say is we’re trying to get that stuff out as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Frank Pallone.

New Jersey’s Coronavirus Task Force will meet Tuesday to determine when the state will trigger tougher mitigation protocols — like cancelling large gatherings — to stop the virus from spreading.