NEW JERSEY - Testing for COVID-19 throughout New Jersey will be ramped up dramatically by the end of the month with expanded testing capacity continuing through the end of June and beyond, said Governor Phil Murphy at his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton.
In addition, the Governor said the state will immediately begin building a contingent of statewide contact tracers unlike that have "ever been deployed before" to complement the expanded testing program. Murphy said the state plans to hire an additional 1,000 contract tracers to supplement the 800-900 tracers already employed by county health departments and create the Community Contact Tracing Corps. Contact tracing is the practice by which health officials attempt to quickly halt viral transmission by tracking down those who may have come into contact with a person who has tested positive with the virus and then recommend either further testing, quarantine or isolation for that individual.
Murphy said the state is well on its way to meet a goal of testing 20,000 residents per day by the end of May and to further build out capacity to 25,000 tests per day by the end of June. He also said there are 135 public and private testing sites up and running across the state.
"We know that for our economic restart to turn into a full fledged recovery we need to give working New Jerseyans and business owners confidence that we are ready to move forward," Murphy explained. "We need to give them confidence that we are prepared and that we are moving responsibly and purposefully. We will move as quickly as we but as safely as we must."
An expanded testing program will include making tests more available to "vulnerable" populations such as those in long-term care facilities, group homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters. "Frontline" populations such as those who work with the vulnerable populations, as well as food-service and public transit workers, are also targeted in the upgraded testing program. Finally, the new testing program will target the general population so that anyone who wants to be tested can get one even without a prescription, Murphy said, noting that mobile testing units will be deployed to certain communities to facilitate increased testing capacity.
The Governor also announced that he would direct $6 million in federal funds to Rutgers University to boost production of its innovative saliva test from 10,000 tests per day to "a multiple of that per day within the next six to eight weeks."
Expanded testing and enhanced contact tracing are the second and third pillars of the state's six-point "Restart and Recovery" plan. Murphy said the first pillar is that data on new hospitalizations and patients in intensive care units or critical care units show steady decreases, as well as a decline in the number patients on ventilators. To that extend, the Governor said all these trend lines are going in the right direction.
However, Murphy juxtaposed the positive trending statistics with other comparisons that demonstrate why New Jersey is not yet ready to fully begin reopening its crippled economy. The Governor used a table to show that despite the good news regarding slowing rates of hospitalizations caused by the virus, New Jersey still leads the nation in the number of new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents (17), the number of patients in the hospital per 100,000 residents (49) and the number of new deaths per 100,000 residents (2.3).
"This is the sobering news. In comparison to other states there is no state that is impacted by the virus as ours," he added. "To all those Nostradamuses out there who think they can predict the future and we can open this place up wide and be carefree and get back to some semblance of where we were a couple of months ago...we are still the most impacted state in America."
As is his practice at the daily briefings, Governor Murphy announced 898 new positive coronavirus cases bringing the statewide total to 140,743. He also announced 198 newly reported fatalities bringing the statewide total to 9,508.