NJ officials continue to address challenges posed by pandemic

This week, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey reached 176,551 total with 13,710 deaths as of today, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

At his press conference on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed an executive order to lift the 50 percent capacity limit on all public transportation through NJ Transit or private carriers, which went into effect on Wednesday. Other measures, including required face coverings, remain in effect. He said lifting the capacity limit will help New Jerseyans get back to work as more businesses begin to reopen.

Murphy signed a second executive order suspending the requirement that municipal and county political parties hold reorganization meetings this week and postponed them to July 27 and 28. The Daily Targum previously reported New Jersey's primary election on July 7 used mostly mail-in ballots due to COVID-19, and Murphy said the reorganization meetings should not be held until all election results have been decided.

The order also postpones all upcoming elections in the state to the Nov. 3 general election, he said.

"Given the public health challenges of in-person voting in a pandemic and, frankly, the cost and logistical challenges of all mail-in voting, this is also a prudent and necessary step," Murphy said.

Murphy also took the time on Monday to remind New Jerseyans to continue taking precautions and seek out COVID-19 testing if they feel sick due to the growing outbreaks in other states. He said testing can help contact tracers prevent new outbreaks early on.

"Just because it's (other states) and not New Jersey doesn't mean testing is any less important," he said. "In fact, as we look both to protect our state against a resurgence of COVID-19 (due to) the national spike and continue moving forward on our road back, getting tested is perhaps even more important than ever."

On Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump's administration rescinded a rule that would revoke visas from international college students if their courses were entirely online due to COVID-19, according to the New York Times. The Targum previously reported Rutgers planned to join a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an amicus to oppose the rule and protect international students taking remote courses in the upcoming year.

In a press release from Rutgers Global, Vice President for Global Affairs Eric Garfunkel said the University is pleased with the decision and will continue to stand with international students.

"This is a huge relief for our international students and for the University community. We join you in celebrating this decision and commend all the efforts undertaken by students, faculty and administrators to stop this policy from going into effect," he said, according to the release.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health issued guidelines to allow parents or guardians of pediatric, developmentally disabled and intellectually disabled residents of long-term care facilities to visit their loved ones by appointment only, Murphy said.

Long-term care facilities began resuming outdoor visitation in June, but Murphy said facilities with zero new probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases in a 28 day period can now allow indoor visitations. He said facilities must have written guidelines in place, screen all visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, require infection protocols such as mandatory face coverings and limit the areas where visitations can occur to minimize exposure.

Murphy also updated the list of states with COVID-19 outbreaks and said anyone who has been in these states and is entering New Jersey should self-quarantine for 14 days. The list includes Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

On Thursday, Murphy unveiled a plan to expand internet access and provide other technology for students in need due to the likelihood of online or hybrid classes this upcoming school year, according to a press release.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is working to gather ideas and philanthropic support from organizations and companies on how to support these students, according to the release. The New Jersey Department of Education will then connect these partners with school districts in need.

The Department of Education will also offer a one-time $10 million formula grant using money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. School districts in need of purchasing digital devices or internet connectivity for students will be able to apply for funding beginning next week, according to the release.

Once philanthropic and CARES Act funding is exhausted, the state will redirect up to $44 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to close the remaining gap of internet and device access, with another $6 million for nonpublic schools, according to the release.

At his press conference today, Murphy said he signed the New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act to help ensure the state can fund core services despite financial challenges due to the pandemic. The act authorizes the state to borrow up to approximately $9.9 billion spread over the remainder of this fiscal year and the upcoming fiscal year, according to a press release.

Murphy also signed an executive order to create the Governor's Disaster Recovery Office, which will oversee the distribution of money from the CARES Act and other federal funds, as well as the COVID-19 Compliance Task Force to review all pandemic-related procurements more than a certain amount, ensure agencies receiving funds are complying with the regulations and prevent fraud or abuse of funding.