Visitors will no longer be allowed at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Saint Michael's Medical Center as the two Newark hospitals make efforts to reduce the possibility of coronavirus exposure to patients and staff.

The prohibition on visitors comes as the coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread throughout New Jersey, which now has 96 reported cases and two deaths. 

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka today announced at a press conference in City Hall that Newark has its first case of coronavirus, a man in his 50s who is in self quarantine and asymptomatic. A second case was identified in Newark, but Baraka was not sure the virus victim was from Newark.

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At the same press conference, University Hospital President and CEO Dr. Shereef M. Elnahal confirmed today that an employee in the hospital has tested positive for COVID-19. The employee lives in Bergen County and is in self-quarantine.

University Hospital does not have visitor restrictions in place.

The University Hospital employee, a health care worker, likely contracted the virus in the community and not inside the hospital, Elnahal said. He has also taken measures to remove all staff who may have come into contact with the employee as well. 

"University Hospital remains a clean and safe place for our patients. We have taken control of the situation, we have taken all the health care workers who make have been in contact, to our knowledge, out of the hospital," he said. "We are taking this very seriously. We need to and will continue to serve the public throughout this."

The visitor prohibition at Newark Beth applies to all units except for pediatric, maternity and labor & delivery, neonatal intensive care units, same day surgery or ambulatory procedures and pediatric psychiatric patients. In many instances, only one person can accompany a patient. Read more about the exemptions.

The hospital said it would make exceptions based on extenuating circumstances, such as hospice.

The policy applies to all RWJBarnabas hospitals, including Clara Maass in Belleville and Saint Barnabas in Livingston.

“The safety and well-being of our patients, visitors and staff is our number one priority,” according to the release. 

Saint Michael's also tightened its visitor restrictions, which it put in place last week. The hospital's new policy prohibits all visitors except in situations of end-of-life care or if requested by the physician as essential in the delivery of care.

“With the increasing number of people in New Jersey testing positive for the virus, we feel this is the most prudent course of action to protect our patients and staff,” said Dr. Claudia Komer, a chief medical officer at Saint Michael’s. “Our highest priority is patient safety and we will adjust this policy as COVID-19 concerns change and as recommended by public health authorities.”