NEW JERSEY – All state employees will have the option to work from home as Gov. Phil Murphy’s office continues to enact measures aimed at promoting social distancing and stemming the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
And while that means tens of thousands will have the opportunity to stay home, an even more impactful measure – the long-term shutdown of the state’s schools – is imminent.
Murphy said he is prepared with “99% certainty” to announce on Monday that schools will close their doors and switch to remote instruction. This would affect 1.4 million public school students and hundreds of thousands more in private schools.
When asked by a reporter during this afternoon’s teleconference why he isn’t 100% sure, Murphy said, “We have 210,000 kids in this state who rely schools for food. I’ve got to make sure every one of those kids gets a meal when this goes into effect. We have 259,000 kids in this state by survey who don’t have a device or access to a device. We have significant child care realities, many of whom by the way overlap with healthcare workers.”
He said he and members of his office are communicating with statewide stakeholders today and Monday to “ensure a singular message and to ensure educators, parents and administrators have clear guidance and are prepared for the weeks ahead.”
Murphy’s continued message of social distancing – keeping six feet apart at all times – comes a day after the state's second COVID-19-related death.
A 58-year-old woman who was being treated at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold has died after she had contact with a confirmed case, according to Judy Persichilli, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Health. Persichilli said that confirmed case had a connection with a confirmed case in Bergen County.
She announced that there are 31 new positive cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in the state. That brings the total in-state number to 98 (although the number reported on Saturday was 69, one case was on the list twice and one case overlapped with another state).
Of the new cases, seven were from Bergen County, six from Hudson, four each from Monmouth and Essex, three each in Passaic and Union and one each in Ocean, Burlington, Morris and Middlesex counties. The new cases range in age from 30 to 77, and 22 of the cases are men.
Persichilli stressed that everyone should avoid small and large gatherings and pointed to the measures taken by Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who is calling for the 40,000 residents in his Bergen County town to self-quarantine.
Despite the pleas for social distancing, the Murphy administration seems resigned to the fact some will not heed his warning.
He requested on Sunday the federal government open a 60-day special enrollment period in New Jersey to allow uninsured and underinsured residents to enroll in health coverage through the federal health insurance exchange. This would allow more people access to testing and treatment, he said.
The Governor’s request was issued in a letter sent to U.S. Department Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.
“While I have coordinated across state agencies to take emergency action to facilitate access to screening, testing and access to care for the residents of New Jersey, more can be done to ensure every individual has access to appropriate health care during this crisis,” Governor Murphy wrote. “Therefore, as New Jersey transitions from a state-based exchange on the federal platform to a state-based exchange, I respectfully urge the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to authorize a special enrollment period in New Jersey to allow individuals to access affordable health insurance options through the federal platform.”
Murphy is also trying to anticipate the long-range effects social-distancing might have on businesses in New Jersey.
The state has established an online portal, cv.business.nj.gov, where the 86,000 or so small-businesses owners can find answers to question and concerns.
“We know that this is an uncertain time for everybody, but in this case, for businesses and in particular small businesses,” Murphy said. “We implore them to continue to retain workers and allow workers who are sick to stay home. Not paying employees might keep employers from being able to fully benefit from anticipated settlement relief and keep their workers from using available state benefit like earned income credit and paid family leave.”