CAMDEN, NJ — New Jersey will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility later this month to millions more people including teachers, the homeless and clergy, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

Educators have been among the groups lobbying for higher prioritization. As of March 15, K-12 educators and school support staff will qualify for shots. Exactly how the state will allocate proper doses is still being worked out, state officials noted.

What may help is the latest emergency approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which Murphy called a “game changer.” The New Jersey Health Department expects to receive over 73,000 shots of the J&J vaccine by mid-week, but deliveries going forward are not known.

Sign Up for Camden Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

During his press conference from Trenton this afternoon, the governor said he hopes schools will be fully in-person come September, but “at a minimum [fully] in a hybrid format.”

The Camden City School District (CCSD) has been teaching remotely since last March. On the week of April 12, schools are slated to welcome back pre-K to 2nd graders, certain English Language Learner (ELL) program students and Special Education students to start with.

“We welcome Gov. Murphy’s efforts to prioritize our teachers and staff for vaccination,” Superintendent Katrina McCombs told TAPinto Camden in a statement. “Our administrative team will continue its collaborative approach with state and local health department leaders to determine the safest and most effective approach to bring back students and staff into our schools." 

The CCSD released a survey to families on Friday to gather feedback on the current plan.

“We believe getting a vaccine is not a prerequisite to returning to in-person instruction, and our hybrid instruction plan along with the latest CDC recommendations will allow for a safe return to our schools in early April,” she added.

Murphy stated, “As it pertains to educators specifically, we will work obviously with [Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli’s] team, the Department of Education, our partners at [the New Jersey Education Association], school leaders, local education stakeholders and our and our sites on means of ensuring full access without interrupting the school day.”

Out of the state’s 811 district, charter, renaissance and schools for students with disabilities as of Monday 110 are all in-person, 533 are in a hybrid format, 142 are all remote and 27 are using a mix of the options throughout their buildings.

NJEA President Marie Blistan called Monday’s announcement a “big step.”

“The sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner our entire state is safer,” Bilstan said in a statement. “We call on the administration to immediately extend that access to employees in higher education who are equally as exposed and equally as critical to fully reopening our state for in-person instruction. At every level, New Jersey educators have worked tirelessly to educate our students and have advocated tirelessly to protect them and our communities throughout this pandemic by demanding high standards for health and safety.”

Murphy, who shared that he had not seen Bilstan’s full statement, said, “We will get to higher ed and we will get there soon. Not everybody's covered by what we've just announced today….You get a couple of months from now we're a whole different ballgame.”

The state issued the following on additional eligibility:

Starting March 15:

  • Educators, including support staff, in pre-K through 12th grade settings
  • Childcare workers in licensed and registered settings
  • Public and local transportation workers, including bus, taxi, ride-share, and airport employees; NJ TRANSIT workers; and Motor Vehicle Commission staff
  • Public safety workers who are not sworn law enforcement or fire professionals, including probation officers and fire safety inspectors
  • Migrant farmworkers
  • Members of tribal communities
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness and those living in shelters, including domestic violence shelters

Starting March 29, frontline essential workers in the following categories are also eligible for vaccination:

  • Food production, agriculture, and food distribution
  • Eldercare and support
  • Warehousing and logistics
  • Social services support staff
  • Elections personnel
  • Hospitality
  • Medical supply chain
  • Postal and shipping services
  • Clergy
  • Judicial system

More than 2 million doses

New Jersey crossed over 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Monday morning. The state currently sits at 2,039,427, with 1.35 million being first doses and over 690,000 second doses.

The following figures were released:

  • 21 new coronavirus deaths
  • 2,331 deaths considered probable
  • 20,942 total confirmed deaths
  • 2,668 new positive pcr patients
  • 704,362 total positive prc patients
  • 88,134 total positive antigen patients
  • 643 new positive antigen patients
  • Positivity rate of 6.44%
  • Rate of transmission of 0.94

Status at hospitals:

  • 1,865 hospitalizations (1,729 known positive)
  • 387 patients in intensive/critical care
  • 226 patients on ventilators
  • 178 patients discharged Sunday
  • 203 people admitted to hospitals Sunday
  • 26 deaths yet to be official linked to COVID-19

In Camden County, there were 356 new cases confirmed over the weekend (total of 39,451 cases and 1,058 deaths).

“Having another available vaccine will help meet demand, increase the size of the population we are able to vaccinate, and speed our vaccine rollout considerably,” Commissioner Director Lou Cappelli said. “Like other diseases, we will never completely eradicate COVID-19, but by dramatically reducing its ability to cause severe illness and death, we can stop it from affecting our daily lives as it has for the last year.”

The county’s more than 50 long-term care facilities account for 466 of the fatalities.

Murphy said the state is working to provide additional outreach to people 75 and older. He specially made mention of putting more emphasis on helping seniors schedule appointments over the phone and increasing dose availability at mega-sites.

He also emphasized that the sites are not walk-up and those residents that do have appointment such arrive 15 minutes prior to their scheduled time.

“There is no need to arrive early and wait,” his office Tweeted along with his comments.

Watch Monday's press conference below:

Find TAPinto Camden on Facebook and Twitter. Download the TAPinto mobile app for Android or iOS.