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NJ is entering second stage of economic reopening, Murphy says

<p>Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said on Tuesday that new data suggests the social distancing policies enacted helped reduce the rate of virus reproduction.&nbsp;</p>

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said on Tuesday that new data suggests the social distancing policies enacted helped reduce the rate of virus reproduction. 

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) held press conferences this week and outlined further steps to begin reopening New Jersey’s economy after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shutdown. As of today, there have been 163,336 cases and 12,049 deaths statewide, according to the COVID-19 Information Hub

On Monday, Murphy said the state has reached its goal of being able to conduct at least 20,000 COVID-19 tests daily by the end of May. New Jersey also conducts the highest number of tests per capita compared to all other states.

Murphy also said the state is on track to move to the second stage of reopening by June 15. The Daily Targum previously reported this stage involves expanding retail, outdoor dining and limited personal care services. He said Stage Two will also include youth summer programs, some in-person clinical research or labs, limited access to fitness centers and limited government services such as reopening the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC).

Outdoor dining and indoor retail services can resume June 15, and personal care services, such as salons and barber shops, can reopen June 22. More information for the other types of businesses will be forthcoming, he said.

“Entering Stage Two does not mean, just as it didn’t when we (had) Stage One, that we flick a light switch. This will continue to be a phased-in restart based upon a careful analysis of inherent risks and the ability to safeguard public health,” Murphy said.

At his Tuesday press conference, Murphy presented data regarding the rate of virus reproduction. When the stay-at-home order was first issued on March 21, each infected person in New Jersey spread the virus to approximately five other people. 

Three weeks later, when the number of hospitalizations reached its peak, the rate of reproduction dropped and each infected individual spread COVID-19 to approximately one other person, he said. The rate is now approximately less than one.

“Without these measures in place, it is certain that our healthcare system would have been overwhelmed. A five-time reproduction rate would have simply been unsustainable for public health … cutting that rate to three would still mean COVID-19 running rampant,” he said.

On Wednesday, Murphy discussed a report detailing ways to improve the quality of care and safety measures at New Jersey’s long-term care facilities. The Targum previously reported Murphy created a task force on May 6 to review the facilities after their practices came under scrutiny in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report found that COVID-19 did not create new issues at long-term care facilities, but instead made pre-existing issues worse, he said. The report called for a stronger emergency response capacity through increased resident and family communications as well as the establishment of a new Long-Term Care Emergency Operations Center to coordinate efforts.

The state must also work on stabilizing facilities and bolstering the workforce through mandatory paid sick leave, better career training programs, implementing minimum staff ratios for direct care and creating a Medical Loss Ratio to ensure payments are used to improve care rather than salary increases for owners, Murphy said.

Increasing transparency and accountability is also vital to improving long-term care facilities, he said. The report states procedures must be implemented to better regulate and monitor facilities, centralize the data collected from facilities and create stronger penalties.

The state hopes to make long-term care facilities more resilient by requiring them to maintain infection control preventionists and establishing the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming New Jersey's Long-Term Care Delivery System, Murphy said.

The same day, Murphy announced the official guidance for restaurants and bars opening outdoor seating areas on June 15, including keeping tables 6 feet apart and requiring specific sanitation protocols. He also said municipalities can determine whether to allow restaurants to expand their outdoor areas onto shared property such as sidewalks or parks. 

At yesterday’s press conference, Murphy said approximately 1.2 million New Jerseyans filed for unemployment since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis but that the number of new filings has decreased each week. Approximately $5.2 billion in state and federal funds combined have been paid to New Jersey residents so far.

Murphy also announced the requirements for nonessential retail businesses to reopen on June 15. Stores must cut their maximum capacity by 50 percent, create special shopping hours for high-risk individuals, require face coverings for both customers and employees and sanitize areas frequently used by employees.

Today, Murphy extended the state’s public health emergency for an additional 30 days, but said this action does not indicate any negative change in the state’s recovery process. By extending the public health emergency, he said, the state will be better equipped to respond to a sudden new outbreak.

He also announced in-person customer service at the MVC will resume June 15 with road tests and the issuing of new licenses or permits scheduled to resume June 29. The state has increased the number of road test examiners to complete approximately 16,300 tests per week, he said.

MVC Chief Administrator B. Sue Fulton said the MVC’s new practices are designed to limit the amount of time a customer spends in the facility rather than have a large group of people in a small space. 

She said plexiglass barriers and floor tape have been installed at MVC agencies to enforce social distancing and face coverings will be required. Stations will be divided into licensing centers, which offer licensing or identification transactions as well as road tests, and vehicle centers, which will offer registration, title and license plate transactions, which she said would speed up services and have already been implemented in other states.

The MVC will initially restrict all transactions to a drop-off and pick-up system with no walk-in services to help address a backlog of transactions, Fulton said. Officials will process permits from high schools at licensing centers and registrations and titles from car dealerships at the vehicle centers. Cars bought from private sellers can be registered through a new online and mail-in hybrid procedure which will begin June 22.

New Jerseyans can begin scheduling appointments for road tests or Real ID services the week of June 15, she said. Those who had road tests canceled will be contacted by the MVC to apply for a new appointment. With the increased number of examiners and 11 additional road test courses, Fulton said the MVC should be caught up with the backlog of tests within 60 days.

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