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NJ, Rutgers officials continue to respond to coronavirus crisis this week

<p>Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said the extension of the state's public health emergency does not mean he plans on implementing tighter restrictions.&nbsp;</p>

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said the extension of the state's public health emergency does not mean he plans on implementing tighter restrictions. 

This week, officials at both Rutgers and in the state of New Jersey continued to take measures to handle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. As of today, 135,454 total positive cases and 8,952 deaths were reported statewide, according to the COVID-19 Information Hub

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced all public schools would be closed for the remainder of the year. Private schools with an extended academic year will be closed until June 30. The Daily Targum previously reported schools would be indefinitely closed beginning March 18, but Murphy was aiming to reopen them by May 15.

Murphy said the decision was based on input from public health experts, the New Jersey Department of Education, district officials, educators and parents.  

“I had hoped that we could get back to a sense of normal by allowing our children to return to the schools they love and to be with their friends and classmates,” he said. “But the reality is we cannot safely reopen our schools to provide students and families — or faculty and staff — the confidence needed to allow for a return to in-person instruction.”

The Department of Education will be meeting with stakeholders to determine whether schools can safely hold summer education programs and how reopening buildings for the 2020-21 academic year will proceed, Murphy said.

To address the challenges imposed by COVID-19, Murphy said the state applied for $310 million in federal aid for the education system, $280 million of which would help districts cover the costs of purchasing educational technology, sanitizing facilities and providing support services for students.

The same day, the Rutgers Office of Financial Aid released an application for students seeking financial assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act through a University-wide email. 

Students are eligible for funding if they filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and are eligible for Title IV aid, according to the email. Title IV aid includes the Pell Grant, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Direct Loans, PLUS Loans and Perkins Loans, according to Student Accounting, Billing and Cashier Services.

The application asked students to briefly explain their financial situation and specify whether they have experienced a loss or reduction in income due to COVID-19, a loss of financial assistance due to a death in the family, a loss of housing or whether they need funding for food, utilities, transportation, childcare or medical expenses. The application also asked students to specify whether they needed a laptop, wifi access or software to complete their online learning. 

Applications will be reviewed in the order they were submitted until the funding is exhausted and students are expected to hear a response within 14 business days, according to the email. The Targum previously reported the University has $27 million to distribute directly to students. 

Murphy said on Tuesday the state will have more flexibility as to how it can allocate the $2.4 billion it received from the CARES Act. Murphy said the state is now able to make its next school aid payment of $467 million, which helps pay educators in public schools.

The Targum previously reported the Department of the Treasury implemented restrictions after the funding was distributed, which Murphy said rendered much of the aid unusable. He called on the federal government to change the restrictions in order for the state to be able to pay first responders and teachers. 

Despite the recent adjustment, Murphy said many restrictions still remain and asked the government to grant the state full flexibility in order to address the economic crisis imposed by COVID-19.

Murphy also announced a program implemented by the Division of Consumer Affairs to grant temporary emergency licenses to recent graduates of nursing, physician assistant, pharmacy and respiratory care programs to expand the number of healthcare professionals fighting COVID-19. 

At a press conference held on Wednesday, Murphy signed an executive order extending New Jersey’s public health emergency, which began March 9, by another 30 days. He said this order does not mean the outbreak is worsening or that the state is planning on enacting tighter restrictions, but that the state will continue practicing the previous policies as officials attempt to combat the virus.

He also announced the formation of a team of experts who will work with the New Jersey Department of Health to conduct a review of the state’s long-term care facilities and recommend reform measures to better protect residents and staff members.

The Targum previously reported the state’s long-term care facilities came under scrutiny during the COVID-19 outbreak after police found 17 bodies piled up in a morgue designed to hold four people at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II in Sussex County.

To further help address the needs at long-term care facilities, approximately 120 members of the New Jersey National Guard would be deployed to these facilities, Murphy announced yesterday. These members will begin working this weekend to perform non-clinical tasks and alleviate the burden on the staff at these facilities, he said.

“We don’t take this step lightly, but we take it knowing that the crisis at our long-term care facilities requires us to take it,” he said.

Today, Murphy announced the formation of the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council, which will consist of leaders in various industries, institutions, community groups and faith-based groups. This council will work with the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission to provide more community input in the economic reopening process.

“If you think of the Restart and Recovery Commission as sort of the strategy, then the Advisory Council will be the actual tactics,” he said. 

The council will be broken up into nine committees regarding facilities and construction, government, health care, Main Street, manufacturing and supply chain, professional services, social services and faith, tourism and entertainment as well as transportation and infrastructure, he said.

Murphy also announced the testing sites at Bergen Community College and the PNC Bank Arts Center will begin testing certain asymptomatic individuals. Because resources are limited, this testing is reserved for healthcare workers, first responders, personnel in congregate living settings or residents who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, he said.

The field medical station in Secaucus will close this weekend, Murphy said, with all operations being transferred to East Orange General Hospital and all supplies being stored for future emergency usage. He said the closure is a sign that the state’s efforts to reduce hospitalizations have been effective so far.

University officials also announced this morning new developments in regard to the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR) Infinite Biologics saliva-based test. Researchers received an amended emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration late Thursday night to allow individuals to collect saliva samples at home and send them to a lab for results, according to a press release. 

Andrew Brooks, chief operating officer and director of technology development at RUCDR and professor in the Department of Genetics, said this approval can significantly expand testing capabilities, according to the release. 

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