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Pistons Forward Louis King Pays it Forward


Detroit Pistons Forward Louis King paid it forward Tuesday, June 30, when he stopped by Jersey City to bring meals to local residents, sign Spalding basketballs, and connect with old friends.

Joined by his mother, Altivea, his father, Louis (a retired firefighter), and his brothers and sisters,  King provided about 350 meals to local residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He gave away souvenirs like book bags, “King Kares” T-shirts, and bracelets, and he autographed black and gold basketballs, presenting them to the first 50 children attending the event.

“I did this because I felt during this time that people were suffering in a dark place,” King said. “I wanted to help them up in the best way, in an ordinary fashion.”

In recognition of King’s generosity to Jersey City, New Jersey Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight and Jersey City Council President Joyce E. Watterman presented the celebrity with a proclamation thanking him and recognizing his community service.

“It’s always a good thing to be appreciated whether it’s a medical or racial crisis,” Council President Watterman said. “It’s truly amazing when someone decides to still come and give back to the community, which Mr. King has done.”

“I didn’t expect the award,” King said. “That was great of them to hand me that for giving back to my community. It motivates me to want to do better. It’s about more than basketball. It’s about helping the people coming up.”

The second to youngest of eight, King spent his early childhood on Woodlawn Avenue in Jersey City. When he was 11, he and his family moved to Columbus, in the southern part of the state. King returned to Jersey City to attend Hudson Catholic High School where he was chosen for the 2018 McDonald’s All-American basketball team. A year earlier, he’d represented the U.S. at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt where he helped bring home the bronze medal.

“Growing up, I played a lot of sports—baseball, basketball and football,” King recalled. “Once I got to seventh and eighth grade, I could say I was more serious.”

King enrolled at the University of Oregon where he was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, and in 2018, King ranked among the top 25 prospects of the recruiting class by ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports.

He recounted, “After my first year of college basketball, I went pro, on a two-way contract where I have the opportunity to play with an NBA team and a junior team, where guys go down and show off their skills.”

Growing up, King says he looked up to players like Tracy McGrady, a seven-time NBA All-Star  who played with the Detroit Pistons from 2010-2011 and wrapped up his career in 2013 with the San Antonio Spurs.

“I looked up to Tracy McGrady on and off the court. By the way he carried himself, he always approached the game with seriousness, always wanted to be a better player. That’s mainly what this game is all about. Being humble and taking advantage when opportunities call.”

Eager to get back to the game since the Covid-19 epidemic shut down the league, King says the Pistons are rebooting.

“They shut down the league because they didn’t want other players getting sick. Now we’re going to have the NBA restart. My team didn’t make the cut, so we’re going back to Detroit and working out, getting better, and staying in the gym.”

King, 21, said he enjoyed seeing friends and family and meeting new people at Tuesday’s event.

“It was great for the community, my family, and my team. There’s always been a connection—and there always will be a connection with Jersey City. Jersey City is a part of me.”

Editor’s note: Mr. King’s “King Kares” charitable efforts are not to be confused with the King Kares foundation of Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Desmond King.

For more on local youth activities during the pandemic, see this Jersey City Times story.

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Jersey City Covid-19 Updates 7/2


Here are the latest Jersey City Covid-19 updates and information on reopenings.

If you feel sick and/or believe you may be infected call your healthcare provider and/or the Jersey City Covid-19 hotline at 201-547-5208 before traveling to a hospital.

Reopening

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Jersey City playgrounds and splash pads will reopen on July 2 and all parks are now open. Masks or cloth facial coverings must be worn and social distancing practices should be followed as much as possible.

Jersey City outdoor pools will reopen on July 3 beginning with the Pavonia/Marion Pool located at 914 Pavonia Avenue.  The Lafayette Pool and Aquatic Center located at 303 Van Horne Street is scheduled on July 10.

Pool access is restricted to residents only and a maximum of 50-percent capacity to allow for social distancing.  Patrons are encouraged to wear a cloth face covering while not in the pool.  Face coverings are not allowed in the pool, due to increased risk of drowning.  Staff will be wearing face coverings, except lifeguards will not wear a face covering while on-duty actively lifeguarding.

Social distancing required when not in the pool, except for immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or partners and required when in the water, unless an individual needs assistance in order to swim.

Pool usage is broken down into two-hour shifts where sanitization will take place for an hour between each swim session.  The full schedules for each pool can be found here.

Museums, aquariums, and indoor recreational facilities (such as indoor bowling alleys, batting cages, shooting ranges and arcades) will be able to reopen on July 2 at 25 percent of their capacity.

Jersey City Libraries will reopen on July 6 to patrons at 25 percent capacity.

Bars and restaurants are open for drive-through, delivery, takeout and outdoor dining, while following appropriate safety and sanitization protocols. Microbreweries or brewpubs may be open for home delivery only. Indoor dining is not allowed. The reopening of indoor dining spaces has been postponed.

Child care centers can reopen their doors to all clients, while following all safety guidelines.

Personal care businesses may reopen, while following appropriate mitigation requirements.

Indoor gatherings are now permitted of up to 100 people or 25% of a building’s capacity, with attendees wearing face coverings.

Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 500 persons, and outdoor religious services and political activities will continue to have no numerical limits, effective at 6 a.m. on Friday, July 3rd. All indoor gatherings will continue to be limited to 25% capacity of the rooms in which they will take place, with a maximum of 100 persons.

Jersey City Covid-19 Testing

Photo furnished by Marilyn Cintron, CEO of Alliance

Free COVID testing for JC residents remains available at the Fire HQ at 465 Marin Blvd between 8:30-11:30am (closed this Friday, July 4). Antibody tests are no longer offered by Jersey City.

A team of organizations is working together to bring Covid-19 and Anti-Body testing to Jersey City’s Far South Side on Thursday, July 2 and Friday, July 3 from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day. The testing opportunity is a partnership between the State of New Jersey, Interfaith Urgent Care, Cityline Church, Jersey City Together, and the City of Jersey City.  Testing is free and open to all, regardless of where you live or whether you have insurance. Pre-registration is strongly requested (at www.njtogether.org/testing ). Photo ID and insurance are requested but not required.

Additional future dates and locations are can be viewed here.

Parking

All parking regulations have been restored and in effect.

33 school parking lots have been opened throughout each corridor of the city for residents to park their vehicles during the State of Emergency.

Click here for map of JC school parking lots.
Click here for list of JC school parking lots.

Please see our prior Jersey City Covid-19 updates.

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Will Summer Crowds at the Jersey Shore Unleash a New Wave of COVID-19?


Beachgoers seek normalcy after long lockdown, but not without misgivings about pandemic

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Jon Hurdle

On a warm afternoon at Seaside Heights, Nick Amoresano allowed himself a trip to the beach for the first time in about three months of pandemic-related confinement, but said he wasn’t completely confident that mingling with hundreds of others was the safe thing to do.

“You obviously take a risk when you come out here,” said Amoresano, 21, a college student. “I feel like now, we’re at a point where the total number of cases has dropped enough where we can feel safe going out, for the time being at least.”

On Saturday, Amoresano sat close with friends and shared the beach with others, some of whom were practicing social distancing and others who appeared to be ignoring it, as they tried to shrug off months of stay-at-home orders and state-ordered business shutdowns, and revert to some semblance of normalcy.

He expressed confidence that Gov. Phil Murphy has done the right thing by imposing stringent lockdown orders since mid-March. By comparison with states like Texas and Florida, where a resurgent virus has recently forced the reimposition of some closures, New Jersey set the right policies, whereas those that didn’t act with such force now appear to be paying the price, he said.

“I feel like our government has done a good job so far in keeping everything low-key and closed down for as long as they possibly could, and now the cases are on the way down,” he said. “We were able to flatten the curve.”

But his confidence didn’t extend as far as the Seaside Heights boardwalk about 100 yards away where a throng of visitors, most not wearing masks, were mingling, strolling, and queuing for hot dogs, and women in the long line for the ladies’ room were a lot less than 6 feet apart.

“When you’re walking up there, you are taking a little bit more of a risk but you are passing by these people; you are not really staying in an enclosed area,” Amoresano said. “You hear about these hotspots.”

Renewed concern among doctors

The gathering of large numbers of people in Shore towns as the summer season gets underway has renewed concern among doctors, local officials and even some beachgoers about a possible resurgence in the virus after a significant decline in infections thanks to three months of stay-at-home orders and state-mandated business shutdowns.

As of June 30, the number of new hospitalizations for the virus was down 95% from its peak, while the number of patients in intensive care was down 89%, Murphy said Wednesday.

Towns up and down the Shore are hoping that their businesses can salvage a successful summer season after an economically disastrous shutdown lasting three months in some cases. Local officials are urging visitors to continue to wear masks and stay away from others who are not in their immediate family.

But the Shore’s hopes for a full return to normal activity were dashed on Monday when Gov. Murphy postponed plans to allow indoor dining, which had been scheduled to resume on Thursday, July 2 but have now been put off indefinitely because of the recent surge in infections in many other states and the violation of social-distancing rules by a few New Jersey restaurants and bars.

“Given the current situation in numerous other states, we do not believe it is prudent at this time to push forward with what is, in effect, a sedentary indoor activity, especially when we know that this virus moves differently indoors than out, making it even more deadly,” Murphy said at his daily briefing on Monday.

He said the infection spikes in other states were caused in part by indoor dining by people who weren’t wearing masks.

“We do not wish to see New Jersey experience a similar spike,” he said. “We have been cautious throughout every step of our restart, and have always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health.”

While most bars and restaurants, and their customers, have complied with social-distancing rules, a few have not, and that risks reversing the state’s progress in curbing the virus, Murphy said.

“It only takes one,” he said. “The careless of one establishment can completely undo the good work of the others. We will not tolerate outlier bars and restaurants and, frankly, patrons who think the rules don’t apply to them. Compliance is not a polite suggestion; it is required.”

Asked at his briefing on Wednesday whether people should stay home or limit gatherings to prevent any COVID-19 spread over the holiday weekend, Murphy urged people to wear masks and celebrate outside rather than inside if they could. But if there’s no option of gathering outside, “I think you’ve got to limit” the number of people, he said.

Photo by Ethan Hoover on Unsplash

Murphy urged New Jerseyans to continue to follow social distancing guidelines so that the state doesn’t experience a spike like those in California and Arizona. “We pray for them, we wish them nothing but a speedy resolution but we can’t let that happen to us, we can’t go through hell again.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Seaside Heights, Tony Vaz, said his administration hired about 15 “social-distancing monitors” starting at the end of June, to “courteously” remind people on the beach and the boardwalk that they must stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not a household member.

Operators of restaurants and amusement arcades, which can reopen starting this Thursday, July 2, will be responsible for complying with the rules, and will risk ticketing or even the loss of their licenses if they are over-occupied, Vaz said.

The July 4 weekend will be a big test for people’s observation of social distancing because the crowds are expected to be a lot bigger than anything seen since the Shore started to reopen, swelled by the many house rentals that start from July 1, Vaz said.

Unable to enforce mask wearing

He acknowledged that many people on the boardwalk lack masks but said mask wearing is an “individual choice” that he can’t enforce.

“Everybody’s got their own opinions,” Vaz said. “There are people who believe that this is very frightening, and there are people that believe this is a hoax. I don’t like trying to convince somebody that this is not a hoax. I don’t think it’s a hoax at all; we have a problem and it’s gotten better in New Jersey.”

Asked whether the summer rush to Shore resorts like Seaside Heights could undo all the good work that New Jersey has done to curb the virus, Vaz said it will depend on the willingness of businesses and individual visitors to do the right thing.

“We are all going to watch,” he said. “Not only Seaside Heights, every beach community is going to watch. We don’t want 25 percent to become 50 percent. We don’t want to violate anything; once you start violating, you have problems.”

For Dr. Judith Lightfoot, chief of infectious disease at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, beach crowds at the Jersey Shore can’t realistically be expected to practice social distancing because they are too tightly packed, and so represent the start of a potential new wave of infections.

In addition to possible new community spread, the Shore also risks exposure from the virus being brought in from out of state, despite the recent order from the governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that anyone coming from at least 16 states where infections are newly surging should quarantine for two weeks upon entering the tri-state area, she said.

Who’s going to monitor?

“People are migrating into New Jersey, and if they don’t quarantine for two weeks, they are going to be out and about, and who’s going to monitor that?” she asked. “Were they practicing social distancing wherever they came from, even if it was in the tri-state area? Are they going to wear masks?”

Larger groups of extended family visiting the Shore should not assume that they won’t be exposed to COVID-19, Lightfoot warned, because the more people, the greater the likelihood that some of them will bring in infection from outside the group.

And if someone gets infected over the holiday weekend, it won’t take long for it to show up. “If somebody had active Covid over the July 4 weekend, that individual will probably show symptoms within 72 hours to a week,” she said.

At Longport, there are no restrictions on the number of beach badges the town is selling because the beach is wide enough to take the expected number of people this weekend, while not violating social-distancing practices, said the mayor, Nick Russo.

So far this summer, there have been no complaints about social-distancing violations, Russo said. But he said that could become more challenging as rising temperatures draw more people to the water’s edge to cool off, making it more likely that they will move off other areas of the beach, and come within 6 feet of each other.

“It would not surprise me if our police officers remind people: ‘We realize it’s hot, but we still have to do what’s right and try to keep six feet apart,’” he said.

Recognizing the risk

On the beach at Seaside Heights, Aileen Narfolejos, 29, an accountant from Piscataway, had come for a day out with her husband, her parents and her sister. She said they always wore masks on the boardwalk and kept the appropriate distance from others on the beach, but nevertheless recognized that their outing was not without risk.

“We don’t see many people wearing masks, which is worrisome but we can only do what we can do,” she said. “We’re all working from home so we feel safe enough that we can be together without exposing ourselves to the virus.”

Colin Baldwin, 23, a recent college graduate, said he wasn’t so worried about getting the virus because he is young, but is more concerned about giving it to others, and so has given up going to bars and restaurants, even for outdoor dining, which is now allowed by the state.

“It’s something I try to be good about,” he said. “I might grab a water bottle but that would be the extent of it.”

Despite the attempts by town officials to enforce social distancing, and the threat of penalties for bars and restaurants that break the reopening rules, the success or otherwise of Jersey Shore towns in preventing a COVID-19 resurgence this summer will in the end come down to individual action, argued Mayor Russo of Longport.

“We as a government cannot legislate common sense,” he said. “It’s absolutely impossible.”

 

Header: Ocean City, NJ. Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

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Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing for the Far South Side


Interfaith Urgent Care and State of New Jersey partner with Cityline Church, Jersey City Together, and the City of Jersey City to bring Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing to Jersey City’s Far South Side from July 1 to July 3.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week (July 1-3) from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day, a team of organizations will work together to bring Covid-19 and Anti-Body testing to Jersey City’s Far South Side. The testing opportunity is a partnership between the State of New Jersey, Interfaith Urgent Care, Cityline Church, Jersey City Together, and the City of Jersey City.

Testing is free and open to all, regardless of where you live or whether you have insurance. Pre-registration is strongly requested (at www.njtogether.org/testing ). Photo ID and insurance are requested but not required.

Bishop Dr. Joshua Rodriguez, senior pastor of the Cityline Church and a leader with Jersey City Together, said: “It is critical that healthcare and Covid-19 testing reach everyone in our city and state, including those who are most vulnerable. Cityline Church and other congregations as part of Jersey City Together are committed to expanding community-based testing at trusted institutions in our communities. We know regular testing will be critical to reaching many of the communities that have been hardest hit by this pandemic and re-opening our economy, and this week is just a beginning.”

The testing will be conducted by Rabbi Abe Friedman’s Interfaith Urgent Care. Interfaith Urgent Care has been conducting Covid-19 and Anti-Body Testing in New York and New Jersey in partnership with religious congregations, with thousands already tested. All are welcome and encouraged to register and get tested – www.njtogether.org/testing.

Read more about our coverage of Covid-19 testing here.

 

Header: Photo by Colin D on Unsplash

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Indoor Dining is Postponed Indefinitely


Governor Phil Murphy announced today by Twitter that indoor dining is postponed indefinitely.

Due to Covid-19 spikes in other states that have resumed indoor dining, New Jersey will not allow it to resume as originally planned this Thursday.

Murphy said he is pausing the resumption of indoor dining because of examples across the state of overcrowding, a complete disregard for social distancing and few face coverings.  The numerous scenes in newspapers and on social media like this one from Jersey City Chief Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut cannot continue.

Murphy said “the carelessness of one establishment can completely undo the good work of many others.” “We will not tolerate outlier bars and restaurants – and, frankly, patrons who think the rules don’t apply to them.”

He concluded by saying that “compliance isn’t a polite suggestion, it is required.”

No other information was provided when indoor dining could resume.

For more Covid-19 information, please see our coverage here.

 

Header: Photo by Danielle Rice on Unsplash

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Guidance to Reopen Schools


Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet announced on June 26 the release of “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” which provides guidance to reopen schools this fall.

The plan announces that, absent a change in public health data, public schools will open for in-person instruction and in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Individual school districts together with community stakeholders will be expected to develop plans that best fits their own district’s needs.

The guidance sets the minimum standards for returning to school and describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:

  1. Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other)or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
  2. Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. It is necessary to acknowledge that enforcing the use of face coverings may be impractical for young children or certain individuals with disabilities.
  3. Limited capacity: It is recommended that students and staff be seated at least six feet apart in class when practicable. When weather allows, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation.
  4. Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased hand washing measures are also important for students and staff.

These provisions are informed by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which call for protecting staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning; providing reasonable accommodations for older adults (65 years and older) and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions; and, when possible, keeping early childhood students apart during naptime and avoiding close-group activities like reading circles.

Other provisions in the guidance include:

  1. Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
  2. Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  3. Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
  4. School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines.

As being able to reopen schools is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, districts will need to be prepared to switch to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year should circumstances change. The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

Districts should strive to share preliminary scheduling plans to reopen schools with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan childcare and work arrangements.

Click here for a summary of the guidance.

Click here for the full guidance.

For more on the Jersey City School Board’s plans to reopen schools, please see Sally Deering’s coverage J.C. School Board prepares for September reopening.

 

Header: Dickinson High School, Jersey City Times file photo

 

 

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NJ’s COVID-19 Death Toll Now Nearly 15,000 After State Reviews Cases


Health officials attribute additional 1,854 deaths to the virus; NJ Spotlight analysis finds further 2,366 unexplained deaths from March to May

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Colleen O’Dea

The number of people dead from COVID-19 in New Jersey is likely about 2,000 higher than the state had been reporting, as officials announced Thursday in their first count of probable deaths due to the virus.

During his daily media briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state health officials had combed through death data and are attributing an additional 1,854 deaths since March 4 — the day the first case was announced — to the novel coronavirus. On top of 26 new lab-confirmed deaths, the total number of New Jerseyans who have died as a result of the pandemic is now nearly 15,000.

There could still be more. An NJ Spotlight comparison of the most recent data on total deaths  this year for March, April and May with the five-year average for those months and the total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths for the period shows more than 4,200 “excess” deaths. Subtracting the 1,854 likely COVID-19 deaths from that total still leaves 2,366 excess deaths unexplained.

Earlier this month, experts told NJ Spotlight that home deaths, heart attacks and strokes likely related to the virus probably explain many of the excess deaths.

State health officials have been saying for weeks that they were working to try to capture likely viral deaths that had not been lab-confirmed in order to provide the most accurate picture of the virus’ death toll.

“In one day, we are significantly adding to the already weighty toll this pandemic has had on our state, and on so many families,” Murphy said in announcing the new data. “We report this out of nothing else than a solemn sense of duty. For many families, we hope that these determinations will provide a sense of closure, and of finally knowing. And for our state, I hope it steels our resolve to do all we can to save every single life we can.”

Calculating NJ’s probable COVID-19 deaths

Ed Lifshitz, medical director of the communicable disease service at the state Department of Health, described the process used to calculate the probable COVID-19 deaths:

  • People who had a viral test done that was less trustworthy than the standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test being used;
  • Those who died as part of an outbreak, many in long-term care settings, and had COVID-19 symptoms, but were never tested;
  • People whose death certificates mention COVID-19 as among the causes.

Doing all this background work is “a slow process and that’s the process that has taken us really months to catch up on, although at this point we’re essentially caught up as far as those results go at this point,” he said.

About a third of the 1,854 probable COVID-19 deaths are from long-term care settings, Lifshitz said. Nursing homes and similar setting have been breeding grounds for the virus, and the deaths of both residents and staff have been particularly high because so many of those who live in these facilities have underlying conditions that make them susceptible to complications from COVID-19. DOH data shows that almost half of all lab-confirmed deaths are related to long-term care.

Lifshitz said the state plans to update the number of probable deaths once a week.

New Jersey now joins the majority of states in reporting confirmed and probable deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows 26 other states, as well as New York City and Puerto Rico, reporting probable deaths.

No nationwide standard for reporting deaths

There has been some debate among states and medical experts over the reporting of COVID-19 deaths, with currently no nationwide standard. That means the actual number of deaths nationally, which the CDC placed Wednesday at 121,117, could be higher. More than 7,600 of those were probable. The CDC changed its reporting of COVID-19 deaths on April 14 to include those deaths confirmed by a lab test and those that were likely caused by the disease because they meet clinical or epidemiological criteria, as well as those in which a death certificate lists the virus as a cause.

Because state health officials used recognized standards to determine probable deaths, there are still more than 2,300 excess deaths officially unexplained in the state to date. If those deaths were all attributed to COVID-19, the state’s total death toll would exceed 17,000. But the total number of deaths may never be known.

“We make no claim that we can possibly count every single person who’s been affected or every single person who’s died,” Lifshitz said. “But we do our best to get the numbers out there as accurately as we can.”

 

Header: Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash

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The Jersey Shore’s Latest Reopening Hurdle? Overflowing Trash


As beach towns begin filling up for the summer, increased take-out dining is causing single-use waste to build up

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Andrew S. Lewis

Since Memorial Day, the Jersey Shore has been grinding back to life. But after Gov. Phil Murphy lifted his stay-at-home order on June 9, the influx of visitors has, in some towns, been even greater than normal for this time of year.

Lines of sun-dazed tourists snake outside the doors of pizza parlors and seafood dives. Supermarket staff are locked in a perpetual battle of shelf restocking. Souvenir and clothing shop workers are hustling to fill a deluge of curbside pick-up orders. The common denominator among nearly all of them? Single-use plastic bags and containers that quickly end up overflowing trash bins and dumpsters.

In Ocean City on Wednesday, Mayor Jay Gillian issued a statement addressing the problem.

“The city had anticipated an increased volume of trash due to the takeout-only restriction and to the greater number of people in town for early June,” Gillian wrote. “But not to the degree we saw over the last two weekends.”

Gillian assured residents that the city “has already increased the number of officers performing highly visible patrols and is adding undercover officers to patrol our beaches and boardwalk to search for violators.”

The city administrator for North Wildwood, Ron Simone, also confirmed “an uptick in trash and recycling with all of the restaurants and bars only being open for takeout until this past Monday, when the Governor granted outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity.” Simone said the city has had to increase the placement of waste receptacles, as well as pick-up times, in “high density” areas like the beach, boardwalk, and entertainment district.

Photo by Christopher Williams on Unsplash

Waste is piling up

“We couldn’t keep enough garbage cans out,” Chris Carson, the public works director of Beach Haven, said. “Our crews would show up in the morning and the cans would be overflowing, with the birds picking at them.” Though Beach Haven’s ban on plastic bags, which was instituted in 2018, has helped, Carson pointed out that the bulk of the additional trash is single-use takeout containers.

In early March, New Jersey was on its way to passing one of the toughest single-use plastic bans in the U.S. But as the pandemic sent public health officials into high alert and New Jersey residents into lockdown, the bill has since been stalled in the Assembly Environmental and Solid Waste Committee. Another bill, introduced earlier this month by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) would require certain plastic, glass and paper containers and bags to be made in part from recycled material, and it would prohibit the sale of some polystyrene packaging.

Early studies of COVID-19 transmission suggested that the virus could live on surfaces for several days. The plastics industry seized on the news, using it as an opportunity to urge states and municipalities to “Bag the Ban,” as the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance put it, and re-embrace single-use plastic bags. The New Jersey Food Council, a lobbying group that represents food retailers and their supplier partners — which previously had supported a statewide ban on single-use plastic and paper bags — sent a letter to every town with single-use packaging restrictions, urging them to reverse course during the pandemic.

Citing Murphy’s Executive Orders 103 and 104, the council’s president, Linda Doherty, wrote, “…all towns should recognize that the Executive Orders supersede these potentially detrimental local ordinances and prevent their enforcement.” In fact, there is no language in the executive orders that suggests local ordinances on plastic bags and other container should stop being enforced.

Most of the Shore towns, like Beach Haven, refused to lift their bans. But others did, like Brigantine, just north of Atlantic City, which suspended enforcement of the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags. As far as reinstituting enforcement of the ban, Ryan Hurst, Brigantine’s assistant to the mayor and city manager, said, “At this time I don’t think there’s any talk of going back.” That decision, Hurst pointed out, would have to go before the city council.

While there has been some confusion in press reports, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19 transmission have always stressed that the virus spreads predominately through person-to-person contact, rather than via contaminated surfaces. Independent research organizations, like the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, have also found that, while the virus can remain detectable on surfaces for periods that can last several days, “it is unknown whether the virus would be infectious for the entirety of these reported durations.” The New Jersey Department of Health does not explicitly require the use of single-use plastic bags or warn against reusable bags, and there is no evidence to show that the virus lasts longer on reusable bags than on single-use bags.

“The plastics industry is trying to make hay out of this whole thing, trying to say everything should be disposable,” said John Weber, the Mid Atlantic Regional Manager of the ocean advocacy group, Surfrider Foundation. “The number one bit of advice from this pandemic has been wash your hands, because soap and water will get rid of this virus on any surface. If there is single-use garbage out there, it’s not all necessary — people should feel safe with reusables.”

Hoping that outdoor dining will help

“Now that outdoor dining has gone into effect, we are hoping to see a decrease in the single-use refuse that had been filling our trash receptacles more quickly than usual,” said Long Branch’s business administrator, George Jackson, who noted that the greatest uptick in waste had been on the beachfront.

Amy Goldsmith, the New Jersey state director for the nonprofit Clean Water Action, has been working with towns to ensure they maintain their single-use bans, but also to find ways for businesses to safely distribute takeout food and other goods without exacerbating the waste problem. “If somebody’s getting a sandwich, then wrap it in one wrapper, whether it’s paper or wax paper or tinfoil, but don’t then put it in a Styrofoam container,” Goldsmith said. “Or, train your staff to ask customers if they need utensils or condiments, or if they’re actually just picking up and going home where they can put their food on a real plate with real utensils and condiments from the refrigerator.”

For consumers, Weber, who is also the council president of Bradley Beach, pointed to Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, which features restaurants that don’t use Styrofoam or plastic bags or straws, and follow proper recycling and energy efficiency guidelines. “First and foremost, seek them out,” Weber said. “But also, refuse — say, ‘No thanks, I don’t need a bag.’”

In Ocean City, Patty Talese, who along with her husband owns Jon & Patty’s, a certified Ocean Friendly Restaurant, the ability to have outdoor seating has been a relief beyond the fact that it has allowed them to slowly return to some normalcy. “When we were pick-up only, people still sat outside on the public benches, and the trash cans were full,” Talese said. She and her staff were having to take out the trash three to four times a day, Talese added, but with the return of outdoor dining, “I only take it out once a day now.”

Nevertheless, the busiest days at the Shore are yet to come, and with them will come the added responsibility of visitors, residents, business owners, and city officials to adapt safely but also innovatively. “We’ve moved so many businesses in the right direction,” Goldsmith said. “But some things may not change, and that’s a grave concern for us.”

 

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‘We Can’t Unsee’ Racial Inequities in NJ Made Clear by COVID-19. What’s the Plan to Address Them?


Gov. Phil Murphy says ‘COVID-19 did not create the inequalities in our society, but it laid them bare’

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Lilo H. Stainton

In North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, state officials have appointed groups specifically tasked with reducing racial disparities as they emerge from the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Rhode Island and Washington have incorporated equity metrics in their reopening plans.

And in Chicago, the city has committed $56 million to help community-based organizations develop localized contact tracing programs. The city also partnered with hospitals on a ZIP code-driven health initiative to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on black and Hispanic communities.

These efforts — flagged in new research from Princeton University’s State Health and Value Strategies program and by other experts — are among the ways public officials nationwide are working to address the outsize toll the novel coronavirus has taken on communities of color, a dynamic caused by limited access to care, greater exposure risk, a higher rate of underlying health conditions and systemic racism that causes or exacerbates these factors.

“We can’t just shrug our shoulders and wring our hands and say, ‘Oh, what a shame,’” said Michellene Davis, an executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas, one of New Jersey’s largest health care systems. “We can’t unsee what we have seen. But we can take action.”

Experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving equity, but they insist public leaders must take concrete steps to prioritize black and brown populations in their coronavirus response.

Important demographic data

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy expanded the collection and publication of racial and other demographic data related to the pandemic and the state started to break this down by ZIP code for more populated areas. But targeted efforts to test for COVID-19, trace its spread, and support communities of color have largely been left to local governments and grassroots groups. And it is not clear what new steps New Jersey’s state government is taking to reduce racial inequalities as the public emerges from months under a stay-at-home order designed to reduce the virus’ spread.

Addressing equity is particularly important now, as New Jersey reopens its economy, Davis said. In May the state began to expand access to nonessential retail and outdoor public spaces and, on Monday, it entered Phase Two of Murphy’s re-entry plan, which allows for outdoor restaurant service. Davis said patrons at these establishments — especially those who choose not to wear a mask, even when such actions may be required — put the employees at risk for contracting the virus.

“Those who are on the receiving end of this have no choice. They have to feed their families,” said Davis, a national leader on health equity. “The good news is, there’s real opportunity here to apply a racial equity lens to every single decision we make” about reopening, she added.

Murphy has made a point of highlighting the racial disparities related to COVID-19 during his daily press briefings and pledged to use the state’s reopening process to address some of the longstanding gaps in care. “COVID-19 did not create the inequalities in our society, but it laid them bare. So, this is also our opportunity to help close those gaps,” Murphy said when he outlined his “Road Back” recovery plan in late April.

How exactly New Jersey will go about closing those gaps is unclear. When asked for an update Monday, Murphy said, “There’s a whole lot going on through a whole variety of lenses,” and he pointed to long-standing efforts to address health care gaps in minority communities, like First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ campaign, which seeks to reduce the state’s high maternal mortality rates among black women, who are 3.6 times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers.

Equity in work and education

Murphy said his administration is also focused on workplace equity and improving educational opportunities for minority residents, noting that those deemed “essential workers” during the pandemic are predominantly from black and brown communities. “So it’s a whole range and I would say it’s overwhelmingly a work in progress. I don’t have a — I wish I had a simple magic wand, magic-bullet answer,” he said Monday.

The state has beefed up its demographic data collection related to COVID-19, which is now included in its online dashboard, and more recently added some ZIP-code data as well, while excluding figures for less populated areas out of concerns for privacy. In late April Murphy signed legislation, championed by Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) and Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), both members of the Legislature’s black caucus, which required hospitals to collect and report to the state certain demographics related to COVID-19 patients.

More than 168,000 New Jerseyans have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, including 12,800 who have died. White residents, who comprise 67% of the population,  account for 35.5% of the cases and nearly 54% of the deaths. Blacks, who make up 14% of the population, account for more than 17% of the cases and 18.5% of the deaths. (That’s down from early April, when black residents accounted for 26% of the COVID-19 diagnoses and 22% of the deaths.) Hispanics are counted differently when it comes to population, but the group comprises 30.4% of cases and 20.4% of the fatalities.

Experts agree that ZIP-code data is critical to enable government to better target its COVID response to where it is needed most. New Jersey is now one of 15 states that report cases by ZIP code and one of five to break down deaths in this way, according to researchers at the Princeton health and value program, which is part of the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. The group also identified key strategies to reduce racial and other gaps — like using targeted data, empowering community health workers and local groups, and appointing individual or team equity leaders to oversee the process — and reviewed how state and city leaders have put these into practice.

Heather Howard, a former state health commissioner who leads the Princeton program, praised New Jersey’s efforts to track and use demographic data and urged other states to carefully consider how to improve equity as they reopen society. “New Jersey is a leader state now in how they are reporting data and thinking about equity in their response to COVID-19,” she said.

It’s not enough to collect data

Davis, with RWJBarnabas, stressed that data collection alone was just the start. To make real, lasting change, she said work must be done to dismantle the structural racism and inequality that impact social determinants of health — factors like education, income and access to quality food, housing and medical care that greatly influence health and wellness. Doing this right requires input from those who experience these challenges firsthand, she added.

“As we are reopening, we need to make sure we don’t just have individuals who have studied poverty” leading the discussions and decisions, Davis said. “That lived experience is worth a Ph.D.”

RWJBarnabas has taken multiple steps to address these underlying social determinants, creating an urban greenhouse and associated programs in Newark and enlisting ride-sharing services to help patients lacking transportation get to appointments. It has also partnered with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurance provider, on Neighbors In Health, a program that deploys community health workers to help targeted individuals in select ZIP codes access medical and social services.

In the public sector, experts said advancing equity requires identifying and prioritizing communities of color and other at-risk groups for COVID-19 testing, ensuring they can obtain affordable treatment if needed, and potentially providing income, housing, food and other essentials as individuals who test positive need to quarantine. In addition to being more at risk for contracting the virus than white residents at work, black and brown individuals are also more likely to live in multi-generational housing, in more crowded communities, and rely on mass transit — all of which increase the risk for the virus to spread.

Social services, better internet, more sick leave

Addressing social determinants is also a priority for the NAACP, which has called for maintaining or better yet expanding social service programs, which benefit a high number of minority residents. The national advocacy organization also has flagged the need for universal access to free broadband internet service, making it easier for people to obtain information about their health and employment benefits and to participate in online education programs; expanded sick-leave protections; and emergency child care options to reduce the pressure on multi-generational households. The group also has underscored the need for wider health insurance coverage and additional resources for community health clinics.

But these larger steps have been discussed for years and all involve significant investment, at a time when the state is already facing a revenue shortfall that, by Murphy’s calculation, could reach $10 billion. (The governor has pledged to use federal funding to pay for some of the state’s coronavirus response.)

“I don’t want to underestimate that things will happen overnight” when it comes to improving equity, said Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a collaborative focused on improving care and controlling costs. “I think it’s going to take a complete re-upending of our social-economic system. Which is very difficult,” she said. “Hopefully people will start to see, we’re not healthy unless everyone is healthy.”

 

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Empty College Lecture Hall

Colleges Will Look and Operate Differently Under State COVID-19 Guidance


Students and faculty will be back on campus at many schools, wearing masks and separated by six feet, as social distancing mandate

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Sheila Noonan

College administrators, faculty, staff and students have a clearer view of what the return to New Jersey campuses will entail with guidance issued Wednesday by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.

Beginning July 1, higher education institutions will be allowed to resume in-person clinical, lab and hands-on sessions — as long as officials have approved their plans to restart instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. Career and technical schools will also be able to restart July 1 with approved plans from their oversight agencies.

The restart moves came in a new executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy.

“As we move forward in our restart and recovery, these institutions will play a huge role,” Murphy said. “They are where our future workforce is being created, and where many of the advances in the life sciences, in engineering, and in other areas that will have a tremendous impact on our larger economy are taking shape.”

Striking a balance

The guidance to schools from the state “attempts to strike a balance between public health considerations and the safe resumption of activities,” Zakiya Smith Ellis, secretary of higher education, said at Wednesday’s daily coronavirus news briefing.

It was developed with input from college administrators, students, faculty and staff, including organized labor, she said. It focuses on 10 areas: instruction, housing, computer labs, libraries, research and labs, student services, transportation, dining, study abroad and athletics.

Colleges and universities are required to submit restart plans for joint review by the OSHE and the Department of Health at least 14 days before staff or students return to campus. Approved plans must be made public by the colleges so parents and students can make informed decisions, Smith Ellis said, and all orientation sessions will include COVID-19 information.

Students with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive diagnosis will be able to learn remotely. The same applies to faculty who test positive or appear symptomatic.

Some parts of OSHE’s 20+ page plan are mandatory — wearing masks indoors, social distancing of six feet and sanitizing equipment and materials. Other parts give colleges guidance, such as the number of people in a classroom, as instructional space varies from college to college and even within a campus. Smith Ellis anticipates that many higher education institutions will adopt a hybrid of in-person and remote learning because of the six-foot rule.

Early reaction from one New Jersey college was positive. A Montclair State University spokesperson said the school welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, noting, “We have had an advisory committee working on a plan to bring students and employees back to campus as safely as possible. We will review that plan in light of the forthcoming guidance from OSHE and finalize it as soon as possible.”

Also Wednesday, Montclair State announced its fall semester will start and end a week early, with students and faculty not returning to campus after Thanksgiving break. All remaining coursework, assignments and exams will be completed remotely to decrease the population density on campus around the time of year when respiratory viruses, including the coronavirus, typically become more active, the spokesperson said.

 

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