CAMDEN, NJ — Camden County, where nearly 2,000 people in long-term care facilities have died due to the coronavirus, will benefit from a new task force.

The New Jersey Task Force on Long Term Care quality and safety, which will be established as part of a new law, resulted from a report commissioned by the Murphy administration given the large impact of the coronavirus pandemic on long-term care patients and staff statewide.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bill Moen (D-Camden, Gloucester), Shalonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) and Annette Quijano (D-Union), was signed last week by Gov. Phil Murphy.

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The task force, Moen said Tuesday during the county’s virtual coronavirus town hall, will seek to better equip nursing homes for the future. 

“Whether it's having to deal with another similar pandemic, or just ensuring that our long term care facilities are in a good place for the 21st century moving forward,” Moen said. 

In Camden County, long term care facilities account for 319 of 547 confirmed COVID deaths. In New Jersey, 158 of the centers have active outbreaks, over 38,000 people from LCF have contracted the virus and the death toll is more than 7,000.

The task force will include, “folks that are working in these homes [and] experts that perhaps study these issues. So that at the end of the day, we're convening a task force that brings together so many minds to really attack and address this issue for the long term," Moen said.

Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson will spearhead the initiative.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding problems in our long-term care system. Not only do we need to address staffing shortages, quality of care concerns and emergency preparedness, but we will need to assess how we can modernize an outdated system to best fit the needs of our most vulnerable residents,” Assembly sponsors said in a joint statement. “The work of this task force will help us reform long-term care in New Jersey, including the expansion of home and community-based services, enhancing the use of telemedicine and optimizing resident wellness and infection control.”

Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli confirmed an additional 17 COVID-19 cases and at least 5 more deaths on Tuesday. More information is available here. 

In response to a public Q&A, Caryelle Lasher, Communicable Disease Unit Supervisor, said during the press briefing that since restrictions were lifted on indoor activities like dining and visiting the gym, the positivity rate in Camden County has “remained fairly even.”

“We’ve been going between 1.5% and 3%,” Lasher said. “There has actually been a slight drop from before when restrictions were [ongoing].”

Lasher explained that the county, which currently has a positivity rate of about 2.4%, remains even compared to the rest of the state. Although it is considered the South West region - which has a rate higher than New Jersey’s approximate 1.81% - Camden County itself has trended closer to the state itself with lower numbers.

Immediately prior to the virtual town hall led by Freeholder Jonathan Young, the county said households - that earn up to $75,000 a year - can now apply for a state program built to assist families with child-care during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The $150 million program, which you can apply for by visiting www.ChildCareNJ.gov, is for full-time and part-time child care services in the event parents need accommodations for children being educated remotely.

“We know that many Camden County parents are struggling this fall to balance work commitments and child-care with so many school districts going full-remote in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Families facing the challenge of how to pay for needed child-care, should certainly take advantage of this aid that’s available,” said Cappelli.

Watch Tuesday’s town hall here:

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