NEW JERSEY — The state plans to allocate $5 million in federal funds to help local health departments in New Jersey who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
That was one of many announcements made Thursday afternoon, as Gov. Phil Murphy announced 3,748 new positive coronavirus cases and 198 deaths - bringing the Garden State’s total to 51,027 cases and 1,700 deaths.
“The allocation will be based on the population size of the communities they serve,” said New Jersey State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at the George Washington Ballroom in Trenton.
The funds will support such local efforts as contact tracing, guidance to long-term care facilities, community testing sites and those unable to access a safe place to quarantine.
A breakdown of the new cases is available on the state’s dashboard - which starting today will include the number of people in hospitals (currently 7,363), those in intensive care (1,523), the number of patients on ventilators (1,551), and hospital discharges (604).
During the briefing - which began at 1 p.m. and in which Murphy entered wearing a facemask - the governor also announced that the grace period for anyone who can’t pay their health or dental insurance premiums due to the outbreak has been extended to 60 days.
Meanwhile, those unable to pay home and auto insurance, renters insurance, life insurance, insurance premium-financing arrangements and others will have a grace period of 90 days to help shoulder the financial burden.
“No New Jerseyan should lose their insurance during this emergency,” Murphy said in a Tweet with details on the executive order.
As of Thursday, the counties with the most cases are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, and Passaic.
“Let us never ever ever let this get abstract,” Murphy said in announcing the latest death toll.
Of the fatalities he highlighted Reverend H. Gene Sykes, 78, the former pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bayonne, Kevin Leiva, 24, an EMT in North Bergen and at St. Claire’s Hospital, and Steve Ravitz, 73, a philanthropist whose family business ran five ShopRite Markets throughout South Jersey.
Murphy also underscored Dr. James Pruden — the director of emergency preparedness St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson who himself contracted COVID-19 at the end of March.
Pruden was released from the hospital Wednesday.
“Dr. Pruden's perseverance should be all we need to find our inner strength to power through this emergency and come out stronger, just as he has,” Murphy said.
Later in the press conference, Murphy acknowledged some backlash to his executive order to close state and county parks.
He said it was not “done at a whim” and instead as a result of data collected: large congregations at parks and “an uncomfortably high number of out of state license plates.”
He said he understands that those out jogging or on walks fear a larger influx of people with no access to parks - saying those individuals should exercise caution.
“We didn't take this lightly,” he added. “We did this based on the facts as we saw them.”
The governor said the order - as well as another that limits supermarket capacity to 50% - are not life sentences and will be revisited in due course.
“We must continue to practice social distancing because social distancing is our best practice,” he said. “This can’t be a time of convenience.”