Coronavirus update: N.J. now has second-most cases nationwide

Mar 24, 2020

The 846 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday in New Jersey bring the state total to 3,675, higher than any other state in the country except New York.

Gov. Phil Murphy also announced 17 more deaths from the virus. The state death toll is now 44.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. (Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office)

“We join their families in mourning these extraordinary lives,” Murphy said Tuesday. “And if anyone is looking to me for a reason to justify the steps that I and we have ordered, I can now give you 44 of those reasons.”

The steps Murphy was referring to are the stay-at-home order issued Saturday and the mandated closure of nonessential businesses.

The governor urged residents to abide by those restrictions, even as a doctor with the state Department of Health said their effect wouldn’t be known for at least another week.

“We’re seeing people now in the numbers who were infected roughly 10 days ago,” said Edward Lifshitz, medical director of the department’s communicable disease service. “We’re really too early to know what we can expect to see with the response we’ve already taken.”

The virus is affecting old and young residents alike. There have been confirmed cases in at least 19 nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Tuesday.

She added that roughly one-third of all New Jersey cases have involved people between the ages of 30 and 49, with a quarter of those patients requiring hospitalization.

“This is just a reminder to younger individuals that they are not immune from COVID-19,” she said. “They also need to take steps to reduce their risk of exposure.”

State to cancel standardized tests

Murphy also said Monday the state had applied for a federal waiver to cancel all student standardized testing scheduled for April. Officials “fully expect” the waiver to be granted, he said.

“With students at home and not in their regular classrooms, it is simply not feasible for us to be able to move forward with testing in any meaningful way,” he said. “This decision will not impact the graduation requirements of any student.”

Murphy did not, however, go so far as to close schools for the remainder of the academic year, instead saying that they remain shuttered “until further notice.”

‘Terroristic threats’ at N.J. Wegmans

A day after the state attorney general promised a crackdown on those who violate the state’s social distancing mandates, Murphy highlighted charges brought against a customer at a Wegmans in Manalapan for intentionally coughing on an employee.

George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, allegedly coughed on the worker during a dispute, after which he told her he had coronavirus, authorities said.

Police issued the man a summons for terroristic threats, harassment and obstruction.

“We are up and down this state and we will not take any noncompliant behavior, never mind egregious behavior like this,” Murphy said.

Separately, police on Saturday broke up a house party in Penns Grove where more than 30 people had gathered, NJ.com reported. Officers charged the host, a man in his 30s, with a disorderly persons offense.

Curbside marijuana delivery for medical patients

Medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey can now deliver marijuana to patients in front of their homes, the state Department of Health said this week.

That will help the roughly 73,000 residents who legally use cannabis to treat medical conditions avoid long lines in crowded storefronts, where they may be more susceptible to contracting coronavirus.

The state’s nine dispensaries have been deemed essential and allowed to stay open during the pandemic.

Nonetheless, many have reportedly been slammed with business, leading some to close early or impose sales limits.

The new regulation also removes the requirement for the dispensaries to conduct in-person consultations for new patients and reduces registration fees for caregivers, who can purchase medical marijuana on behalf of registered patients.

N.J. taps hotels, dorms, convention centers for bed space

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to set up four, 250-bed field hospitals in New Jersey to help deal with a potential crush of COVID-19 patients, officials said Tuesday.

Those pop-up facilities would be located at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, the convention centers in Edison and Atlantic City, and a fourth location yet to be determined, said State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan.

At the same time, Persichilli said the state is exploring the use of hotels and college dormitories to house patients with moderate symptoms who need to isolate away from family members, as well as “vulnerable populations” like people experiencing homelessness.

“The hotels are in reserve,” she said. “We have gotten a great response from a number of chain hotels offering up their residences.”

Murphy also said New Jersey would receive a second shipment of personal protective equipment from the strategic national stockpile, including more than 200,000 N95 masks and 84,000 ventilators.

With equipment for front-line workers still in short supply, several corporations in New Jersey have come forward with donations.

After Newark-based insurance giant Prudential donated some 153,000 masks to the state on Monday, the state’s largest utility, PSEG, announced Tuesday they would donate 50,000 of their own to a large health system. Murphy also said Apple, GlaxoSmithKline, Walgreens, Goldman Sachs, Verizon, Comcast, Home Depot, Hard Rock, Wawa, Sherwin Williams and the Plumbers Local 24 union had offered to help with supplies or through other means.

“It is deeply felt and deeply appreciated by all of us, especially our health care workers and first responders,” Murphy said.

Gun store closures violate constitutional rights, lawsuit says

Gun right advocates are suing Murphy and the State Police superintendent over their decision to deem gun shops “nonessential” and close them amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint revolves around a Somerset County man named Robert Kashinsky, who “became concerned about his ability to protect himself and his wife in the event that … emergency services were unavailable or were not reliably available.”

According to the suit, Kashinsky visited a gun shop on March 21 and intended to come back a few days later to buy either a rifle or shotgun.

But later that day, Murphy issued an executive order to close all nonessential retail stores.

The mandate was part of strict new rules to enforce social distancing and avoid overwhelming the state’s health care system.

Stores selling guns and ammunition were not exempted, and the online system used to process background checks for gun dealers was disabled.

Kashinsky is joined in the lawsuit by Legend Firearms, a Middlesex County gun shop, and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society.

They said in the complaint that they “do not mean to minimize the severity or urgency of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“However, this emergency (like any other emergency) has its constitutional limits,” they said. “It would not justify a prior restraint on speech, nor a suspension of the right to vote. Just the same, it does not justify a ban on obtaining guns and ammunition.”

Asked about the decision to close gun shops at his Monday news conference, Murphy said he was “comfortable where we landed” on which business to deem essential.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he said the governor’s executive order is consistent with those issued in other states.

“None of those contain an exemption for firearm stores,” he said. “And nor does the federal guidance from Homeland Security contain that type of exemption when it comes to essential facilities and nonessential facilities.”