TRENTON, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is not only going to open a shuttered hospital, but could seek to repurpose closed nursing homes and office spaces under construction to increase the state’s number of critical care beds.
The number of new coronavirus COVID-19 cases in the state – 162 – seems to offer a glimpse of why officials are moving quickly to identify ways to accommodate the anticipated surge in the positive cases.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that among the new cases announced at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference were two deaths.
A woman from Essex County and a woman from Hudson have passed away. Both were in their 60s and had pre-existing medical issues.
There are now 427 positive cases of COVID-19, including five deaths.
To meet the expected rise, Persichilli said 260 new hospital beds will be brought online today. Another 227 beds will be ready within three to four weeks.
She also said she expects Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury to be re-opened and serve as an acute care facility with 300 beds.
“We’ve looked at every closed hospital over the past 10 years but most of them are not able to be brought online,” Persichilli said. “Underwood, being the most recent one, was able to be brought online. We’re also looking empty nursing homes. We’re looking at spaces that are under construction that can be outfitted with medical gases.”
Murphy said that “everything was on the table”: Hospital wings that have been closed because utilization was down, empty nursing homes that could serve as acute treatment centers, college dormitories that could serve as quarantine sites and pop-up facilities such as the ones utilized after Superstorm Sandy.
Murphy and his staff are also expected to meet with Major General Jeffrey Milhorn pf the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday to find out how they may be able to “help build-out plans for expanding New Jersey’s hospital space.”
The state is also taking unusual measures to make sure reopened or repurposed facilities are staffed.
Persichilli said the state nurses association has put out a call to all nurses with active or inactive licenses, to see if they would assist hospitals across the state.
Also, students from Rutgers Public School of Health will be recruited to help staff local health departments.
The FEMA-staffed drive-through testing site at Bergen County Community College, which will be capable of conducting up to 2,500 COVID-19 tests a week, is expected to be up and running Friday. A similar one to be constructed in PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel is just days away from opening.
Murphy also moved to prop up the state’s economy in the wake of the 15,000 applications for unemployment insurance benefits filed on Monday.
In particular, he said his staff is in the process of getting flexible federal block grants as soon as possible. He said the block grants come with minimal oversights, allowing the state to apply them where most needed.
“They are the fastest singular and best way for us to sure up our finances,” Murphy said.