NORTH JERSEY — Since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic this past week, new bipartisan legislation has been passed aiming to address the spread of the potentially deadly virus head-on, keep American families safe, and stimulate the economy.

Congressman Gottheimer voted today to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Benefits include free testing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and paid emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave, among other financial benefits.

“The coronavirus has officially reached a pandemic level, with a rising number of cases in North Jersey, and deepening impacts on workers and families in communities throughout our state and across our country,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer. “Today, the House passed bipartisan legislation so our communities, hospitals, and all levels of government can continue combating the outbreak of the coronavirus, take care of patients, help stop the spread of the virus, and ensure our country is protected from this public health emergency.”

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The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes the following provisions:

  • Free coronavirus testing for all, including the uninsured;
  • Tax credits for paid sick and paid family and medical leave;
  • Paid emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave; 
  • Up to three months of paid family and medical leave;
  • Enhanced Unemployment Insurance, to extend protections to furloughed workers;
  • Strengthened nutrition security initiatives, including Supporting National Action & Planning (SNAP), student meals, seniors’ nutrition and food banks; and
  • Increased federal investment to support state and local governments and health systems, so that they have the resources necessary to combat this crisis. 

Since the virus’ first outbreak in Wuhan, China in December, there have been more than 150 presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus around the United States. According to the most recent tally, there are 50 in New Jersey, 31 of which are in Bergen County. These include one in Fort Lee; one in Bergenfield; three in Englewood; 18 in Teaneck; three in Fair Lawn; one in Garfield; one in Wood-Ridge; one in Paramus; and one in Dumont. A Little Ferry man, 69-year-old John Brennan, a horse trainer, was the first person in New Jersey to succumb to the virus at Hackensack University Medical Center.

While physicians say 80% of coronavirus cases are mild, 5% of people with weakened immune systems or a litany of underlying health conditions can die from the virus. Brennan reportedly had hypertension, diabetes and emphysema. 

The coronavirus, like other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu, can pass from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes on or near another, specifically, landing in the mouths or noses of the healthy person, which can be inhaled into the lungs. 

Dr. David Perlin, the founding Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President for the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, said the hospital has developed a molecular, in-house test in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, to get results back same-day instead of waiting days for it to reach the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters. 

“Currently, the health department labs in New Jersey are authorized to test, and so this is certainly a plus,” said Perlin at a press conference at the hospital on March 1. “That way, we can send samples to the health department and the CDC for final validation.” 

The WHO encourages people to cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and thoroughly cook meat and eggs. People are also advised to avoid close contact (within 6 feet) of a sick person who is exhibiting signs of respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing. 

Because the virus can also spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects, people are advised to wash their hands for 20 seconds with antibacterial soup or hand sanitizer and avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

This past week, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco declared a state of emergency in Bergen County. On Thursday, he announced that all 75 school districts had been closed "until further notice," as a precautionary measure to prevent the possible spread of the virus while the buildings are sanitized. Students will begin off-site, paper-based learning at home beginning Monday, March 16. As part of an executive order, senior citizen centers have also been temporarily shuttered, and most recently, public theaters to prevent "social distancing" while the virus remains a threat. 

Hackensack University Medical Center has also imposed a network-wide restriction effective March 13, with the following exceptions: 

  • Hospice;
  • Pediatric care;
  • Ambulatory Care/Same day surgery (one visitor); and
  • Maternity/Labor and delivery (one visitor)

These hospital restrictions will be reevaluated in one month, hospital officials said.

Call the New Jersey Department of Health Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 with any concerns or questions.