TRENTON, NJ — Incidents of price gouging and racism aimed at Asian Americans in New Jersey since the coronavirus, COVID-19 crisis began prompted an irritated Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday to say, “There’s a special place in hell for the people who take advantage of this health crisis."

Murphy made the comment after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal reported there have been 1,400 price-gouging complaints spanning 900 businesses reported to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Grewal said during Monday afternoon’s press conference that the most commonly marked-up products are surgical masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, wipes, food and bottled water.

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In response, his office has issued 160 cease and desist letters and 30 subpoenas.

Grewal said his office’s aggressive action — it has conducted 350 on-site inspections — has kept the numbers relatively low. He stressed, however, the need to be vigilant as a federal stimulus package promises to put extra cash in each resident’s hands.

“I will guarantee additional fraud cases are going to come,” he said. “Additional cyber frauds are going to come. Additional financial fraud cases are going to come, particularly when federal money starts flowing in.”

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli reported that there are 935 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the state and seven more deaths. That raises the state total to 2,844 positive cases and 20 deaths.

She said the numbers will undoubtedly rise as the state’s capacity to test increases.

The testing site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel opened at 8 a.m. but had to turn away many after it met its capacity for testing.

Although the evidence shows that COVID-19 does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin or religion, the same apparently cannot be said about some New Jersey residents.

Grewal said his office has investigated “a handful” of incidents of discrimination, harassment and assault in New Jersey directed at the Asian-American population.

What was unsaid during Monday's press conference was how many across the country have decried President Donald Trump’s insistence in calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and suggest it will lead to more bias incidents directed at Asian Americans.

Murphy did not come away from this morning’s one-on-one phone call with Trump with a promise for more personal protection equipment for New Jersey’s healthcare workers, but he did get the president’s support on setting up pop-up field hospitals.

Murphy said Trump backs having FEMA personnel set up four field hospitals to meet the expected rise in COVID-19 patients.

Officials are also taking unprecedented action to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to in-state correctional facilities.

As many as 1,000 low-level offenders will be released from jails starting Tue., March 24, after Chief Justice Stuart Rabner signed an order Sunday authorizing the release of offenders serving certain types of sentences in county jails.

Grewal said the order applies to inmates who are in jail for probation violations as well as to those with municipal court convictions, such as disorderly conduct.

If a county prosecutor or judge objects to the release of one of the inmates, a hearing will be held and a special master will make the final decision.

Murphy said no other state was taking these “drastic” steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

 

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