CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC – SOCIAL DISTANCE SPREADS MEDIA AT PRESS CONFERENCE
March 20th, 2020 Coronavirus Briefing
NEW JERSEY STRONG news – Bergen, NJ: Governor Murphy holds Press Conference 3.20.2020.
Governor Phil Murphy: Sorry to be, again, a few minutes behind which is my bad. It’s good to be in Bergen County. I haven’t been here in a couple of weeks, Jim. I’ve been under the weather so it’s nice to be back.
I also want to thank our friends in particular at Bergen County College here, starting with President Dr. Michael Redmond who’s a dear friend, and I want to thank him for hosting us so graciously today as he always has. I had the great opportunity a couple of years ago to deliver the commencement address to the graduates of this fine institution, and it was one of the highlights during my time as Governor. And I want to thank him and his team for opening their door to us today on his campus and his community. And obviously, it’s been a big day. More on that in a minute.
I’m here with a cavalcade of VIPs, so I want to thank a woman who needs no introduction immediately to my right, the Commissioner of the Department of Health Judy Persichilli. Judy, as always. To her right, Congressman Josh Gottheimer. I’ll speak about him in a moment. I don’t know where we’d be without his tenacity and leadership. Josh, thank you, man. Great to have you.
To my left, another warrior, another great leader, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco. Jim, thank you for all of your help. I’ve got way down to Josh’s right at the far right, the Superintendent of the State Police Col. Pat Callahan as well as the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health Chris Neuwirth. And they have been deeply involved with a whole range of initiatives including the testing that we did today here at Bergen County College.
And then, in the category of special, very special guests we have immediately to Jim’s left the Executive Vice Chairman of BioReference, Dr. Jon Cohen. Jon, great to have you with us. It’s an honor to have you. To his left, LabCorp’s Senior Vice President Bill Haas. Thank you, Bill, for being here and for your help. And the guy who overseas the Department of Health’s testing Dr. Tom Kirn on the end, of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. So, to you guys, thank you for your presence here today, and we’ll hear from at least a couple of you.
I want to go back to Josh Gottheimer and I want to acknowledge his leadership and partnership in seeing that the needs of New Jersey and of our families are being met at the federal level. We also know that our work is far from done. In particularly, we’re going to need strong federal action to assist states directly. This is something that our fellow governors and I made very clear to President Trump and Vice President Pence not just yesterday but certainly yesterday on our video conference.
Just to give you a sense of the numbers that we’re talking about here, and I might add that I had a very good conversation with Governor Cuomo this morning. And Governor Wolfe, Governor Lamont and Governor Carney now from Delaware, who is also in our cabal – we’ve had very good exchanges here over the course to the day. And I’m speaking to at least some of them directly later on. But just to give you a sense of the magnitude of the federal assistance, and we’re talking about now direct cash assistance. There’s a term of ours, block grants, which you may hear, but just the four states – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut – we think roughly we’re going to need $100 billion of direct cash assistance to help us get through this emergency to be able to recover.
Now, New Jersey’s the state I know the best. We’re at the frontlines with the workers who are going through hell right now, with the small businesses; with all of the various communities in need. And we are filling that void. But at the same time, this is really expensive. The meter’s running. The best way without question for us to solve that riddle is to let us continue to be at the front lines, and to get that direct cash assistance to come in and help us to continue to fund that assistance and those programs – which are now myriad and costing many, many hundreds of millions of dollars over the next very short period of time.
So Josh, for that I want to thank you and your colleagues. We have the best Federal Delegation in the entire state. I was back and forth, another example with Congressman Donald Payne earlier today, whose Subcommittee on the Committee of Homeland Security overseas FEMA. And I want to give FEMA Region 2 a big shoutout for their help in our testing today here on campus. Donald Payne, again, I could say something literally about every single one of the members on both sides of the aisle. But Josh, we’re in your backyard man, and God bless you. We’ll hear from you in a few minutes.
And then, the man to my left, to the County Executive, another dear friend. I thank you, Jim, for your strong leadership over the past couple of weeks. This county, and you’ll hear it again today from the numbers that we report is being hit the hardest in our state. And you have been called to make some very tough decisions to keep your residents safe. We have been working throughout, and I thank you, Jim, for your partnership. Bergen County is in the very best of hands.
Just to give you another couple of updates since we last saw you, I mentioned Judy and I and others met with the President and the Vice President yesterday. We reiterated our thanks for the sort of boots on the ground, FEMA Region 2. By the way, Jared Maples is with us, Director of our Office of Homeland Security, and Jared, thank you for everything you do in overseeing our emergency response.
We thanked the President and Vice President for the boots on the ground and the cooperation. We also reiterated that we continue to have outstanding needs in personal protective equipment. We put a big ask in; we’ve gotten a fraction of that. We are not sitting on our hands. We are aggressively going out and trying – and Judy will go through some of this – sourcing other avenues to get some of that PPE. But there’s nothing like getting another big slug out of the federal Stockpile. Josh has been very helpful with his colleagues on that front as well.
And then we reiterated that we’re going to need the direct cash assistance that I referred to. So, that was a constructive conversation. We’re still not there yet but it was a constructive one. We had a very good meeting face-to-face in Trenton at the ROIC hosted by Col. Callahan with the Army Corps of Engineers, and Judy and Chris and Pat sort of went through sort of how we see the need for more beds.
Again, remember that in addition to testing, which we’ll come to in a minute, and caring for the sick and those in need – which are two big initiatives – there are two other ones; the hip bone connected to the thigh bone. One is to flatten the curve through aggressive social distancing, and we’re going to tighten the screws further. You should expect to hear more on that by probably tomorrow morning, and we’re going to continue to tighten the screws over here so we relieve the pressure over here.
But we can’t rely on the timing of this, so we must buy an insurance policy over here, and that is to find a way to reactivate or activate many hundreds more of critical care beds and units. And so, the Army Corps is particularly valuable. Judy will give you a quick sense of how that process is going.
We had a good call last night with the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who himself is new to the seat and a former colleague of Josh’s, and himself getting over I think self-isolation. He said he’s in good shape physically. We reiterated with Mark our specific asks that we’ve been making of the federal government. We had a good call earlier today with the Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper and that actually was a good conversation as well, reiterating, you know, we may get a little boring here for you but we’re consistent.
Our asks are pretty much every time out more PPE to protect our extraordinary healthcare workers, the heroes, our first responders; secondly the boots on the ground as FEMA Region 2 has showed this week with extraordinary support. The Army Corps, potentially the VA; other actual, tangible sources. We mentioned with Dr. Esper the possibility to get some medical personnel from the Defense Department. And then, the third piece again is we’re going to need, as I said, we’re going to need a bigger boat. And we need a lot more money to allow us to continue to do what we’re doing.
Again, I repeat, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut alone, we think direct cash assistance in the order of $100 billion. I’ve also, as I mentioned, had a long conversation with Governor Cuomo today. We’ve been back and forth with both them personally as well as their teams, with Governors Lamont, Wolfe, and Carney among others. I’m scheduled to speak later today with some other governors who are doing great work on both sides of the aisle – Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Jay Inslee in Washington. So, the comparing of best practices, comparing notes, etc., continues to be a source of great strength for all of us.
A few minutes ago, Tammy and I, the First Lady’s here – nice to have you with us. This is the closest I’ve been to her in weeks. A few minutes ago I had the opportunity to check in on the drive-through testing operation that began this morning here on campus. This is an important step for us in dramatically ramping up our testing capabilities. And I just want to say, they deserve the victory lap and the credit but you’re going to hear that we tested today 600 people successfully, which was beyond our wildest dreams.
And Judy and Chris and the Bergen County folks and the Paramus folks, and the folks under Jared’s watch; and I know Josh was deeply involved in this. And then of course the backend testing – these guys to my far left are going to be the ones who then take these swabs and go in and test them. But just a Herculean, not without bumps in the road. As we said, we’ve never done this before. And to say there was pent-up demand would be the understatement of the century. But considering all of that, I don’t think in our wildest dreams, guys, we thought you’d test 600 people.
And again, just to repeat, we understand and appreciate the tremendous anxiety that so many residents feel. We know that from the hotline, phone calls and messages we’ve received through email and social media, that access to testing has been an overriding concern to residents. But I must reiterate, and please, again allow me to say this. Not everyone should hop in their car and come here to be tested. Individuals must be current New Jersey residents – you have to show your own identification; and you’ve got to be showing some symptoms of respiratory illness. If you are feeling perfectly healthy, if you are among the so-called worried well there is at this time no need for you to get tested. Let’s ensure that our resources are available first and foremost to those who are at greatest risk.
And again, I must thank all of the medical personnel who are taking samples and working to ease people’s anxiety, to members of the Department of Health’s Emergency Management and EMS staff, the State Police, the New Jersey National Guard. I want to give them a big shoutout who are keeping the public safe, and to the team from FEMA for their partnership in setting up this testing site. As I mentioned, to our Bergen county brothers and sisters, our Paramus brothers and sisters, to each and every one of you, thank you.
Today, in terms of numbers we learned… I should say one other thing, testing – Chris, am I okay to say this on testing? Tomorrow morning, 8:00 right here again, and you all will go until you get to 350 tests, is that correct?
Assistant DOH Commissioner Chris Neuwirth: That’s correct.
Governor Phil Murphy: So, we’ll open up for business again tomorrow morning. Again, bring an ID and you must be symptomatic, and/or have a medical permission slip as it were.
We will in addition to this open up the second FEMA site on Monday. As we had mentioned to you all already to preview this, it’s at the PNC Bank Arts Center, the parking lot, which is in or around Exit 116 of the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel. It’ll be Monday, March 23rd unless you hear on social media otherwise. It will be at 8:00 AM. We will have, according to Mahen, a website link up soon but not yet. And Mahen tells me do not visit PNC today or over the weekend. We need time to set up the site. Did I get that right?
So, Bergen County tomorrow, right here on campus at 8:00 AM and we’ll go up until 350 tests. And then, I think you’ll be back at it as we promised seven days a week, so they’ll be back at it on Sunday. And then, we will be up and running unless you hear otherwise at 8:00 AM at the PNC Arts Center parking lot in Holmdel, New Jersey, in our home county of Monmouth Monday morning, March 23rd, 8:00 AM.
Today, we learned of 155 additional positive tests. That brings our statewide total to 890. We have sadly learned of two additional deaths as well. God rest their souls; those families are in our prayers. That brings our total fatalities to 11. Judy will go through each of, to give some color on the positive tests as well as the fatalities. And again, God rest their souls. I think we think just because of the timing and the batching in the commercial lab – leadership can address this – our gut tells us that the 155 is light relative to what we will have learned by the end of the day.
And the extent to which we learn anything that is meaningful on that front we’ll come at you with some sort of a paper release. Otherwise, we’ll be doing what we have been doing. We’ll have press availabilities both tomorrow and Sunday. I mentioned earlier that we are almost certainly going to tighten the screws on social distancing. If we do that it’s likely tomorrow effective for tomorrow night, and if we in turn do that I think we will probably have an in-person gathering up north here somewhere tomorrow to go through exactly what we’re doing. So, bear with us on that front.
The number, again, remember everybody, the number of positive tests is rising in part because, in fact in large part because of expanding capabilities of private labs. And we’ll hear from some of them. We expected these numbers and we expect them to keep rising in the short term as greater testing capabilities such as the drive-through site here at Bergen County College come online. And again, you’ve got the combination – and Judy and team can get into this in more detail – you’ve got an obvious combination. You’ve got some amount of community spread and you’ve got an explosion in the testing regime. The numbers are going up. The numbers will go into the many thousands. We’ve been predicting that for some time. Just remember that.
And this is not necessarily on its surface a bad thing. The more information we have, the better we will be able to respond to this crisis. So, as we slowly but surely catch up with the testing – and again, I can’t thank our partners enough who are with us on the dais today, including at the Department of Health in addition to the private sector players – the numbers are going up. Just know that. But that gives us also some ability to even better and more proactively manage the challenge.
Earlier today, I signed legislation that builds on the steps that we’ve already taken to ensure that all coronavirus testing will be done free of any insurance copays to those being tested. And I thank again the legislature for their action – both sides of the aisle beginning with the leadership, beginning with the Senate President and Speaker. I can’t thank them enough. Also, we are ensuring that anyone without insurance does not have to pay for a test. Cost will not be a barrier for anyone.
Again, expanding testing is absolutely critical for a couple of reasons. First, of course, people may be exhibiting signs of COVID-19 or who may have been exposed in any way to a known case need to be tested. So, clearly there is a need. Increasing our ability to get these residents tested is critical to saving lives. Second, as I mentioned, the more testing we implement the better we’ll be able to track the scope of the spread of coronavirus, which will allow us to take even more focused action to flatten the curve and mitigate further spread. The data that testing provides us is critical to our response.
And today, I want to again, thank the gentlemen who are with us today. I am very pleased to announce that in partnership with both BioReference and LabCorp we will be able to greatly increase our daily statewide testing capacity. And I’m equally proud that these are both New Jersey companies. I’ll ask John and Bill to speak to their individual efforts in a few minutes. But make no mistake – this is a game changer in our overall efforts. Lab capacity is no longer an issue in New Jersey as it is nationwide. Our focus can now move to increasing specimen collection statewide. This greatly moves us forward.
Again, to repeat an obvious point as a nonmedical expert: we too often talk about testing and conflate what is in fact a frontend and a backend process – the collection of the specimen, the testing at the lab at the backend. Additionally, the state Public Health and Environmental Lab, and Dr. Kirn, thank you for being here, is getting the equipment it needs to increase its capabilities up to 1000 tests a day. It is also developing test kit components to relieve shortages elsewhere throughout our system.
So again, to both John and Bill, I thank you for your partnership and willingness to step up at this time. And in fact, I extend these thanks to all of our private sector partners. We cannot thank you and the women and men in your operations enough.
Throughout the state, additional testing facilities are coming online. As they do, they will be announced publicly. But again, we urge those who feel healthy to take a step back and allow those either exhibiting symptoms or those who are most at risk to go to the head of the lines.
Separately, under legislation I have signed, the Attorney General’s Office through the Division of Consumer Affairs has temporarily waived restrictions to allow healthcare professionals licensed elsewhere to assist in our efforts here in New Jersey, especially in the aera, and not limited to but especially in the area of telehealth. For some, that means doctors licensed in other states being able to provide telehealth services to our residents. And in accordance with the bill I signed, which I mentioned earlier, all copays for telehealth are also being waived. It also means that we can have the healthcare staff of the New Jersey National Guard step in to directly assist us as well. And again, I want to give General Beale a huge shoutout to him and the men and women of the Guard.
Finally, we continue to pursue every avenue to bring more personal protective gear into our state to backfill the normal supply chains. The state is working with the federal government to secure more from the Strategic National Stockpile and we have placed significant orders ourselves and we are working with private industry. Again, I want to give private industry a big shoutout. I’ve mentioned a couple of the players who have stepped up earlier in the week. To that end, I’m proud to announce that Home Depot will be donating a significant number of N95 masks for our public health workers’ needs. We are extremely grateful to them.
All of these actions, greater testing and more medical personnel on the ground will significantly improve our response capabilities going forward. And again, I want to reiterate as testing expands, the number of positive cases will grow significantly. This is not and it will not be a surprise, and I urge residents to not let these numbers increase the anxiety they already feel. I know it may seem counterintuitive. In fact, the more folks we test the better we are able to reduce the anxiety.
This information is vital to us and our abilities to flatten the curve. It is critical for us to be able to do the things we need to do to keep more residents safe. So, leave the anxiety and the worrying to us up here at the table and our colleagues. Keep doing the smart things to protect your families – the basic stuff: washing with soap and water, don’t touch your face, cough and sneeze into your sleeve, stay home. Frankly, everybody should be staying home at this point but we’ve been saying all along if you don’t feel well, stay home.
Keep the social distancing. Do not gather underground. And again, we’re going to… It brings me no joy but we have no choice. We will within the next 24 hours further tighten the screws in terms of the social distancing. We have no choice. It is absolutely proven to be the best way we can get out ahead of this virus and crack the back of it. If you are not needed as part of our response efforts stay home. And again, practice social distancing and do all the hand hygiene and safe respiratory hygiene that we’ve talked about.
We are going to get through this. I say that unequivocally and we’re going to get through it together – again, not unscathed, not without mistakes or bumps in the road. But let there be no doubt. We will get through this together but it requires each one of the 9 million of us – the group of us up here and everybody around this state – to do their share, to do their part. And again, I would have a particular plea to beg you all for social distancing, particularly for our young people.
Again, look at the pictures of the beach in Destin, Florida, or South Beach – folks who behave as if they’re invincible. First of all, the data is beginning to prove that young people may be a little bit more impacted by this than we had hoped. And secondly, more immediately and we’ve said this before – you may unwittingly carry that virus and infect a member of a generation which is much more likely to suffer the more grave consequences of this virus. We can’t allow that to happen.
I had a terrific call with the Attorney General and Col. Callahan with chiefs, Police Chiefs, first responders, fire union leadership, law enforcement up and down the state. And I said thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything they do. Secondly, social distancing is job number one and we’re going to tighten the screws further. And thirdly, enforcing those measures is a huge part of making this social distancing and flattening the curve a reality.
I want to close with a word to all of the New Jerseyans who are out there every day doing the jobs necessary to our response. From our extraordinary public health and safety personnel, to our grocery store workers, to the folks at Motor Vehicles making sure that our trucking industry can keep supplies rolling, to the childcare workers looking after the kids of all of the above, and to everyone else on the frontlines with us. We need you in this more than ever before. You are doing the work that is mission critical to our state’s response and recovery.
We are going to come out of this together, stronger than ever before. God bless you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart. With that, please help me welcome the Commissioner of the Department of Health Judy Persichilli.
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon.
Yesterday, I spoke about steps we’ve taken to protect our most vulnerable populations – our residents in our long-term care facilities. Today, we’re putting in place another measure to protect our older adults. Today, we are halting adult daycare centers in all of our counties. For those who are not familiar with this service, adult daycare is a program that provides social, health and personal care services to older adults who need supervision during the day.
The halting of adult medical daycare is necessary to protect residents from serious and life-threatening risk of contracting COVID-19. It is also another measure to mitigate the spread of this illness. Earlier in the week we closed these services in Bergen, Middlesex and Monmouth because of the large numbers of confirmed COVID cases in those counties. With increasing cases across the state, we felt it was another important step to make.
The CDC data has demonstrated the increased risk of serious complications and death for those over 65. In the United States, 80% of the deaths are among this population and the highest percentage of severe outcomes are among persons aged 85 and older. That is why it’s critical that we place these restrictions on programs and services targeted for this population.
All residents however, need to take steps to protect not only their health but also the health of their loved ones. Stay home as much as possible. Practice good health habits. We keep repeating wash your hands, practice good respiratory etiquette. Social distancing is vital to slowing the spread of COVID-19. We must all take this seriously.
As the Governor said, I’m sure you’ve all seen the coverage of young people at the beaches enjoying Spring Break. It’s vital that our younger individuals take this illness seriously. You may not feel sick, but it’s possible that you could transmit COVID-19 to someone who is more vulnerable. We are definitely all in this together and we must take these steps together.
As the Governor said, today we’re announcing 155 new cases for a total of 890 cases in the state. Sadly, today we are reporting two more deaths. One is a male in his 30s – in his 30s – from Essex County. The other is a male in his 50s from Bergen County. We have 11 deaths in our state. Nine of those individuals have had comorbid conditions; two are still under investigation. Seven are males, four are females. Four are associated with a long-term care facility in our state. We’re thinking of the families of each and every one of the individuals during this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of the families that are dealing with this.
The county breakdown of all of the new cases are thus: Bergen 48, Burlington 2, Essex 8, Hudson 9, Hunterdon 2, Mercer 3, Middlesex 11, Monmouth 10, Morris 4, Ocean 15, Passaic 12, Somerset 4, Sussex 1 and Union 9. There are 17 cases we’re still gathering more information on.
And as I’ve said, we will see more cases in the coming weeks, a lot more cases. And as we see more cases, especially among nursing home residents and those with underlying medical conditions, the stresses on our healthcare system will build exponentially. I’m very concerned about that, and that’s why we’re continuing to explore unused space in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and to look at standing up new hospitals.
I want to make it clear we expect increases in cases. We expect a surge in cases that will stress the healthcare system significantly.
This morning, with the Army Corps we did a walkthrough of a hospital in Woodbury, Inspira. And I’m pleased to report that they have assessed that hospital to be up and ready right after we do a thorough cleaning and decontamination. The physical plant is in very good shape. So, we do expect that that hospital will be ready to go and will be on standby within three weeks, three to four weeks – four weeks at the longest.
Governor Phil Murphy: Judy, how many beds again?
Commissioner of Health Persichilli: 300. We are also looking at a facility that used to be a hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey. It is now over 100,000 sq. ft. of gutted interior; 48,000 sq. ft. per floor. And the Corps will be looking at that tomorrow, and we expect that we can bring that up. That’ll be fitted out and we can bring that up in another four to five weeks. That will give us probably another 200 beds, so we’ll have 500 beds of capacity, unused and ready to go when the surge occurs. Notice I didn’t say if the surge occurs.
We don’t know exactly where the peak of that bell-shaped curve is but we know it will happen. We’re doing some predictive modeling right now to determine other areas in the state where we have to be prepared with critical care beds and additional medical/surgical inpatient acute care capacity.
We’re also looking at closed wings of hospitals. There will be a complete review. We have about seven or eight that have come forth. And in addition to the closed wings, which we’ll be able to bring up fairly quickly, we are looking at bolt-on wings that the Corps would build on the campuses of some existing hospitals. We’re not only focusing on the northeast; we are somewhat concerned with capacity in the southern part of the state even though the population is much smaller. We have fewer hospitals, and as a result we need to be able to get capacity to handle any surge in the cities in the south.
As you know, today Bergen County’s test site opened. I want to give a shoutout to the volunteers and primarily the healthcare workers, the nurses that came together and put that site up in very short notice. And it’s not an easy task. Chris Neuwirth from the Department of Health and the Colonel did a yeoman’s job, and it worked. People got tested; over 600 people got tested. And it will continue till there’s no other people to test, and hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.
Just a reminder, if you have mild symptoms stay home and self-isolate. Separate yourself from other people in your home. Avoid sharing household items like dishes, utensils and towels, and if your symptoms worsen seek medical care but call first. These steps can help protect you and your family from the spread of COVID-19. Thank you.
Governor Phil Murphy: Judy, thank you for everything and your leadership. Two comments and a question; first the question. The two fatalities from yesterday, did they have adjacent health issues? I know you said nine of the 11. Does that include the two from yesterday?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: Yeah, one did and one is still unknown. One’s under review. But what we are finding is that most of the individuals no matter the age – and I’m going to give a shoutout for general health here. Diabetes is in almost every single individual, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity. So please, that’s a shoutout for taking care of yourself generally.
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, and this is a point I was going to make. It’s nine out of 11. Is it going to stay at that hit rate in terms of, God willing the denominator doesn’t go up a whole lot more. My fear is that it will go up for sure. But that’s the point I was going to make. There’s an adjacency in an overwhelmingly high percentage of this.
Two quick comments. One is, if my math is right, one of the unknowns is now in Cumberland County; meaning Salem County is now the only of our 21 counties that doesn’t have a confirmed case. And Judy is still working through 94 unknowns, so there’s a chance one of them is from Salem. So, that’s just to give you a sense. While the numbers are the biggest by far in Bergen and the north is more impacted now than the south, we take the entirety of the state deadly seriously. When you look at in particular, as Judy mentioned, hospitals per capita. We’re exposed more than we’d like in the south.
My other comment is, I haven’t had a chance to look at it but I believe this is true. This is a bunch of information if folks need to know where to text or know where to call. Am I right? So, make sure folks commit this to memory because these are the best places to go for information. Judy, I can’t thank you enough to you and your team. I’m sure we’ll hear from you during questions.
It’s now my honor to introduce the guy who runs this county, and again, this county right now has 249 confirmed cases and that’s almost certainly understating meaningfully the reality. He’s a dear friend, he’s a terrific leader. Please help me welcome the County Executive Jim Tedesco.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco: I sit here today to have to say my thoughts and prayers are to our fourth Bergen County family member that isn’t with us today. And it’s close to home for me.
Governor, I can’t thank you enough for coming here today to be with us, and I can’t thank you enough for getting the FEMA test site here in Bergen County where we are feeling the pain and suffering of this deadly virus.
Governor, I have a toolbelt on and screwdrivers in my toolbelt to screw down in making sure that people stay home. I’m here to be with you; I’m here to work with you. I’ll give you all the screwdrivers you need to keep turning that screw down.
I want to thank the New Jersey Department of Health. Commissioner, Chris, your staff have been outstanding in helping us through this and even helping us get this site up and running. I can’t thank you enough.
To the members of FEMA, thank you for being here. Thank you for putting boots on the ground to help us here where it’s needed the most. To the Colonel, thank you so much. Thank you to the National Guard. Thank you for having your folks here helping us. Truly appreciate it, Colonel.
To the other Colonel, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, I’ve known Col. Callahan for some time and I can’t thank him enough for having the support and the folks here to help us as we navigate through this. And I know that he’ll be here with us throughout this entire process.
To the EMS folks, and Governor, I hope you don’t mind that mine’s going to be more thank yous. The EMS folks, they’ve been standup. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So, I really have to give a big shoutout to the EMS folks.
To the Bergen County Sheriffs Department, the Bergen County Health Department – they’re on the frontlines. As I sit here today, they’re the ones on the frontlines dealing with this. We have the virus in our law enforcement community both at the county level and at the local level, so we’re going to be facing some challenges very quickly in our law enforcement community.
To the folks here at Bergen Community College under the direction of Acting President Dr. Tony Ross, thank you. I had promised them that we wouldn’t use the building. I had promised them when I said, “Well set it up at the college,” we wouldn’t use the building. Well yeah, Dr. Ross and Larry Hlavenka, thank you so much for allowing us to use the building.
I have to give two big shoutouts because we wouldn’t be here today testing all these people without two groups. First, my OEM Coordinator and my OEM Bergen County team under the direction of Sgt. Matt Tiedeman who’s standing right over here. He built the village and they came. His model I believe will be the model that’s used across this state, and if it wasn’t for him and his dedication to this county we wouldn’t be here testing 600 people. So Matt, one hell of a job. Also to the DPW workers and general service workers, and everyone else who helped Matt put this together, thank you. Thank you, thank you.
And now to the other shoutout, to the volunteers. To the volunteers that came here today, that came here yesterday, that came here the day before to help us build this village. It shows you what this county is made of. It shows you what the state is made of, the fiber that the people have of this state and this county. To volunteer their time to come and help those in a time of need, those people are the real heroes. They’re the ones. They didn’t have to come here. They said, “I will come here,” and they’re making a difference.
I’ve got to say thank you. I’ve got to give them the shoutout. There were some today that I talked to, and I went around the entire complex today thanking every one of them. But I ran into a group of nurses and they said to me, “Last night we got the call at 10:00 to come here.” 10:00 last night they got the call to come here, and sure enough, when I got here this morning in the dark with the eerie feeling, with the fog, they were here. That’s just truly remarkable.
The people of New Jersey must stay home. I keep saying it, I keep saying it and I’m going to continue to stay it. They have to stay home. The only reason people should be going out is if they have a critical need. That’s it, only that. If they do that, we will slow this down. The other part of this puzzle is the testing. It’s so vitally important and today we took the first steps down that path of testing those that need it.
If you don’t have to go out, I ask you shelter at home. Spend time with your family. Spend time at home, because these are the two important aspects of what we need done – staying home and getting testing done.
Let me just give you a couple things that are happening here. Lats night at 10:00 at night I received a call from one of the CEOs of our hospital asking me what I could do to help get hospital beds. Not only do we need hospital rooms; they need hospital beds. What I could do as a County Executive to get PPE. This is what we’re facing here in Bergen County. We don’t want our health system to collapse. We want to keep it up. We need to. That’s the front, that’s how we’re fighting this battle. So, to my federal partners, to the Governor’s federal partners, we need some PPE. We need things to keep us going here.
Today, you heard the numbers of Bergen County and I know the Governor and Judy said that those are probably low. I will tell you they are very low compared to what I have in my numbers at Bergen County. Today, 56 out of the 70 communities now have at least one positive test – 56 out of 70. And our Medical Examiner’s Office has people in it right now that we’re waiting for results so that we can tell their loved ones and we can let those bodies be released to their loved ones.
This is what we’re facing. This is why it’s so important that we work together, that we partner together. The Governor, myself, all the folks work together because we’ve got to slow this down. With everybody’s help we will. We’ve all got to be rowing together, but here in Bergen County we’re feeling the pain. And Governor, again, I can’t thank you enough for how much you’ve done to help us here in Bergen County and I truly appreciate it. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you. Thank you, and again, right back at you. Thank you for everything you’re doing. You all have been the hardest hit by a multiple by the way. Whether the numbers are understated or not – and again, I think the 155, I think Judy agrees with me. I think the 155 we got today is meaningfully understated because of the way the batching is working. But even if you take the numbers on their face, Bergen is three times the next number of cases of any other New Jersey county. So, we’re here for you and we ain’t going anywhere.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco: Thank you, Governor.
Governor Phil Murphy: And please apologize to the leadership of the Community College that we went back on your word. IT’s probably my fault for dragging you into this room today.
With that, again, Jim can’t do his job, I can’t do my job, Judy can’t do hers without extraordinary representation in Washington. We have the best delegation in the country, and when we talk about the big asks of PPE, boots on the ground to do things like build out more hospital capacity, and the big bucket of money – repeat, direct cash assistance we think into New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut alone, in order for us to continue to serve those workers and businesses and communities in such need? $100 billion.
I don’t know where we would be without leadership and the guy who is constantly there, and I literally thank him all the time, always with an attitude of “Put me in, coach, what do you need? What are the asks? What can I do?” There’s nobody better. Please help me welcome Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer: Thank you very much, Governor, and message well received on the resources. And thank you for your really incredible leadership. It’s amazing how much you’re doing given all you’re dealing with personally, and it’s as if you’ve put it all aside to take care of everybody else. So, thank you so much for what you’re doing. Really, I can’t thank you enough and we all feel that way.
And County Executive, thank you for all you do in the largest county in the state of New Jersey, 1 million people. And it’s incredible and I’m so lucky to have you here as a partner every single day, and the College, thank you so much. Colonel, thank you and National Guard, thank you for all you’re doing. And the New Jersey Director of Homeland Security who just does such a phenomenal job and is always a great partner.
FEMA, thank you for being here and stepping up so quickly to help our community. Our frontline healthcare workers, I know many are here outside, and our first responders, our firefighters, EMS, law enforcement always putting other people ahead of themselves and their own interests.
And I just can’t thank them enough. I also know we’re in a place of education so I do want to thank all the teachers in New Jersey because I know they’re having to reorient in this equation. And our Superintendent of Bergen County has done a phenomenal job. All parents, I also want to thank you because we’re all homeschooling suddenly, those who hadn’t before. And I was doing long division and I haven’t done that in years this morning. And so, my ten-year-old and I were battling it out and she was right in her problem; I was wrong.
I do want to start by just saying we have two major health challenges and the Governor outlined these perfectly and so did the Commissioner, and Commissioner, you’re doing remarkable work – thank you. Chris, thank you, too.
Separate from our economic threat that we’re facing and that we’re in the middle of, one, and this I think is pretty clear as you’ve said, Governor. One, we’ve got to get, we must, must expand testing and approved processing time. And this is essential. We’re all hearing it but so we’ve got to stop New Jersey residents who may have the virus from spreading it. We’ve got to get people tested so they can get the help and we’ve got to slow the spread.
So, people who need it – because we only have, as you know, limited supplies. So, people who need it, and we must get tested here in the center that we’ve set up – and again, Jim, it’s incredible what you guys have done in a short period of time with FEMA in this new testing site. And then the new one that, Governor, you announced today they’re adding on. This is what has to happen across our state, and as you said only people who need it, talked to their doctors come here because we’ve got a long line of people I know who want to get tested. But we’ve got to make sure that only those who really need to get tested get tested.
And as you know you did in the state, Governor, but we did it federally in our legislation that was signed into law two days ago by the President, passed by both the House and the Senate, testing free for all Americans. So, even if you don’t have healthcare coverage you can get tested. If you need it, please get tested.
Two, and you made this point about PPE and supplies, we are woefully behind on equipment and supplies – goggles, masks, surgical masks, N95 masks. And these are for our frontline first responders and our frontline medical professionals. They need them because they’re actually testing, they’re in our hospitals. We need to keep them healthy. I think this is really, really important. And Governor, I know you’ve been in touch with everybody under the sun. There’s not a single person you haven’t spoken to to get them. I’m doing the same thing. We called up dentists; we’ve called up surgical centers.
Obviously we’ve all spoken to the White House and to get more from the Strategic Reserves we’ve got to get this gear up into greater production. It’s going to take time but in the meantime, we’re talking to everybody in the world to get more supplies. Our hospitals, especially here in Bergen where we have the greatest number of cases, we have to be able to get more gear. And I want to thank industry also for stepping up. Just this morning, one of the care centers called and said, “I’ve got two boxes of 600 surgical masks, do you want them?” And we got them sent to a hospital within an hour that needs them.
That’s the way people are coming together right now and it’s the way our country should operate every day. But you know, it’s unfortunate it takes a crisis to bring us together like this, but I think we’re all learning that this is how our country should operate – people coming together, putting the needs of Americans and each other and families first and foremost.
Now, as we continue to tackle the health crisis I just want to make one point about the economic crisis, and Governor, this I think addresses part of what you’re talking about. We’ve got so many people now, and we’re all hearing from them and we know them, and they’re our friends and our family, especially hourly workers who have no income. And the state is doing an incredible job getting people who need it onto Unemployment Insurance. We’ve sped that up federally and allowed them to knock out some of the barriers to getting signed up. That’s very important and we’ve got to increase… I’m arguing that we’ve got to increase the amount that people are getting. We’ve got to get money to people’s checking accounts immediately so they can get food.
I help co-chair this group called the Problem Solvers Caucus. It’s 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans in Congress. We put out a plan yesterday that we voted on and we supported, more than 10% of Congress coming together, and it’s the Health Crisis and Economic Revival Package. First and foremost, it includes getting for salaried workers who are out of work, of course at certain income levels and for hourly workers and gig workers, getting those resources to people because we need to get those resources to people.
We also need to make sure that if you are unable to pay your rent, if you’re an individual, you’re a business, we’ve got to give time for that, for people to may their mortgages, pay their rent, pay their bills. We’ve all got to come together on this because it’s critically important that we give people more time to pay their bills. We also have to give our businesses, especially small- and medium-sized businesses – and I’m going to be arguing strongly for this – long-term low- or zero-interest loans so that they can stay afloat. And they’ve got to commit to keeping their workers or furloughing their workers so they get benefits. We’ve got to make sure that businesses can stay up.
I’ve spoken to so many restaurant owners in the last day and bar owners, and so many businesses that right now there’s no one coming. And they’ve got to keep their doors open. We’ve got to help them and so when we get through this they can stand back up and be there. Really, it’s the backbone of our economy. As we know, small businesses are half the jobs in Jersey. They’re 98% of the actual businesses in New Jersey are small businesses. We’ve got to make sure they’re okay. Obviously we’ve got to make sure our airlines are there and our other core, vital industries, but we’ve got to take care of our small- and medium-sized businesses.
Two other quick points, things we argued for in a bipartisan way: supply chain issues. It’s going to continue to be an issue with our supply chain. So, I know our grocers are doing incredible jobs getting the food out to people. We need additional regulatory relief at the FDA and the CDC to allow for more market-based testing solutions and supplies, and testing kits an ventilators, because as you know, we have a huge shortage of ventilators and obviously personal protective equipment.
The military has offered more resources. I know the Governor has requested a portion of that for here. I think that’s incredibly important. They have ventilators; they’ve offered up a lot of equipment. We need to get that to New Jersey given how hard we’ve been hit.
The last point I just want to make before turning it back over, and I really ask everyone to work together on this. In the loan deferment and forbearance that I mentioned before, whether or not you’re talking about student loans, which the President announced today that they’re going to allow that to be deferred for 60 days. The IRS announced that they, both for filing and for collection, a 90-day delay. That’s going to let people have more cash in their pockets, but also, people just aren’t at work to be able to prepare their taxes.
We’ve got to give people relief on these fronts as much as possible to deal with this process. And as the Governor said, we’ll get through it. We need to be ready on the other side of it to stand our economy right back up and to be prepared. But it’s really only if we come together and look out for each other. And we will fight incredibly hard for resources back to New Jersey. It’s essential. We’re talking to the whole Delegation about it – members of Congress, both parties, our Senators. We are going to fight to make sure New Jersey’s able to keep moving on.
There’s a huge amount of pressure on the state right now, an enormous amount of pressure. We have to do our job in Washington and I’m hoping we’re going to vote as late as next week on a package that will include more significant resources back to the State of New Jersey to do whatever you need, Governor. Whatever you need, you know that the line is open. Please, we’re here for you. Anything that you need whatsoever. This virus does not see gender, religion, race or political party, right? And we are truly all in this together.
We are the greatest country in the world. We will get through this stronger on the other side. Let’s all stay healthy and stay safe, and practice all the things the Commissioner tells us to do to stay healthy. So thank you and God bless.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you. So well said and I cannot thank you enough for your fierce advocacy for our state, not just your district which is we’re right smack in the middle of it but for our entire state. I cannot thank you enough, and again, your attitude is just “Tell me what you need, man,” and that’s as good as it gets. So, thank you, bless you.
It takes a village as they say. No matter how good Jim might be or we might be, or Josh or Judy or any of us, boy, it really matters when we can surge and include really distinguished private sector leadership. And there are great examples up and down this state right now; you see it. It screams through at a time of crisis and challenge and boy, is it doing that right now. We’ve got two really distinguished leaders of outstanding Jersey organizations with us today.
I’m wondering if I can begin by asking Bill Haas, the Senior Vice President Northeast Division of LabCorp, which is one of the existential – along with BioReference and Qwest, who’s not with us today – these are the companies. I don’t know where we’d be without them who are doing the big-scale, rapid testing for folks for the coronavirus. So Bill Haas, a few words from you. It’s great to have you with us and again, I can’t thank you enough for your partnership.
LabCorp Senior Vice President, Northeast Division Bill Haas: Thank you, Governor. LabCorp is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to perform tests and increase the number of tests we can run. Our utmost concern is for the safety of the public, our patients, our healthcare service providers and our incredible LabCorp employees.
As of today, we can perform more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day for patients across the US. That’s a significant increase in our capacity since we first started testing just two weeks ago. We are not collecting specimens for COVID-19 testing at our locations but we are now dedicating the first hour of service each day at our patient service center locations for the other testing needs of the elderly and the most vulnerable.
In New Jersey, we are proud to be working with Governor Murphy and the other state officials to support the public response. We began performing COVID-19 testing at our lab in Raritan, New Jersey, earlier this week and we are doing everything we can to keep people healthy and support the public response to COVID-19. I’m deeply proud of my LabCorp colleagues around the world, across the US and the thousands right here in New Jersey. They are working so hard to respond and we should all, as the Governor and others have noted, give a big thanks to all those who are on the frontlines of healthcare.
But this is not just about LabCorp. We are working closely with the government and others to increase the test capacity and to respond to this public health crisis, and we’re proud to play an important role as part of an industry consortium that is committed to meeting the growing demand for national testing. Thank you.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thanks to you again and your colleagues. Let me ask you a question. You said that you’re up to 20,000 a day, that’s a big increase from two weeks ago. Just out of curiosity for folks, where were you at two weeks ago?
LabCorp Senior Vice President, Northeast Division Bill Haas: We validated the test two weeks ago. So, it is an enormous increase in our capacity. The first test went through two weeks ago.
Governor Phil Murphy: That’s extraordinary. Bill, thank you. I cannot thank you enough. Jon Cohen is the Executive Chairman of BioReference, another great private sector actor who has just stepped up in a big way. I know that they are actively forming ventures with a handful of our counties to expand testing and specimen intake up and down the state. Jon, it’s great to have you with us. We’d love to get a few words from you as well, sir.
BioReference Executive Director Dr. Jon Cohen: Thank you, Governor. And I just want to mention as a practicing surgeon for 20 years before I took a different turn, looking at you today, New Jersey is very fortunate. The vigor that you have now and the way you look now is absolutely terrific for a guy who had had this surgery done recently. So, congratulations on that.
As you know, BioReference is actually headquartered here in Bergen County. We’re about four miles from here. We have worked 24/7, our employees literally working 24/7 to get the tests up and running. We have many of our employees who actually live in Bergen County, 3000 plus of our 4000 employees are residents of the State of New Jersey. And many of our employees’ children go to this college. So, it’s particularly meaningful to us that we’re able to help you and the state.
As you mentioned, we announced this morning we’ve established agreements with five of the counties with more to come. We’ve established official agreements with Union County, Ocean County, Essex County, Burlington County and Hudson County, and we’ll begin testing with them through their drive-through facilities within the next week or so.
We are also, like Bill said, we have ramped up to about 20,001 – I’m only kidding. We’re doing about 20,000 a day as he is.
Governor Phil Murphy: There’s no friendly competition by chance, is there?
BioReference Executive Director Dr. Jon Cohen: We are prioritizing. We have several of the large health systems who are sending us their criticals, and those are patients that are in the hospital. Those patients particularly need turnaround times within a very short period of time to help the frontline employees, the physicians, the nurses, the medical workers to make sure that they can make the diagnosis as soon as possible because it does have an impact on the therapy and how they treat those patients.
I also want to comment that we’re beginning to look at testing for first responders, the police, fire, and EMTs, and beginning to work through a process for how do we get those people screened? And finally, the demand is enormous. We, like Bill, we serve all 50 states. We have labs in California, Texas, Maryland, Florida. But our largest laboratory, where we are currently doing all the national testing is four miles away, sitting here in New Jersey.
So, I want to thank again everybody that’s been mentioned but particularly again the Governor and the folks that work with him, and the Commissioner and her staff for the leadership they have portrayed to get us to the point that we are today.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you, and I appreciate your personal comments. I need to be referring to you more appropriately as Dr. Jon Cohen. So, thank you for that.
By the way, elective surgeries – I’ll give you a perfect example. My surgeon needed to see me for a postop checkup and we decided to do it via iPhone. And he gave me the thumb’s up, so far so good, but he made the point, as urgent as my surgery was – urgent within a period of time – that there was no way that I could have, two weeks later, been able to keep that schedule; that they would have been able to put me off, now, he hoped not for long but that’s what we’re dealing with right now. Judy knows this better than anyone.
So, Bill and Jon, again, I can’t thank you enough for your help. We’re going to go to questions. We’ve got on the one end we’ve got Tom Kirn here, we’ve also got Chris Neuwirth and Pat Callahan, Jared Maples. The National Guard are here if we’ve got any questions but I think we will not have any more formal comments and we’ll go to questions.
Reporter: [inaudible] The two men who died in their 30s, do you have precise ages for them and their preexisting conditions if any? And then, the other question I wanted to ask you, Governor, that we’re getting a lot from some of our viewers and such is there seems to be confusion in the construction industry. Specifically, you have hundreds of workers still working at American Dream even though the mall itself is closed, and workers have brought us their concerns about the fact that the sanitary workers in that facility are gone. But then, you have small-scale construction sites in the state that have been brought to a complete standstill because building departments are shutting down, not doing permits and inspections. I wonder if whatever you’re going to be announcing tomorrow will provide more clarity on that or if you’re going to do anything else today.
Governor Phil Murphy: On the latter, we will provide more clarity, period. So, we are putting together – and I know Judy will talk about the two cases but I will give another health warning that I think we give every day, that we’re only going to go so far as it relates to individual cases. But I think Judy can give some general comments on that.
So, just as it relates to the executive order that we’re working on, as I said I think right now our expectation is that we’d have something by tomorrow. We want to do this right, so you may remember back when we were closing schools, even though a lot of districts got out ahead of us we wanted to make sure that we got that exactly right – particularly for food insecurity, for daycare, for remote learning. We want to get this right, so when we talk about closing – which, you’ll hear it here first, nonessential businesses are going to be shut down. Gatherings of any sort; I’m not sure if we’re going to be at ten people or if we’re going to zero and just eliminate any gatherings. Those are the sorts of steps we’re looking at.
But we don’t want to do this just to get a sugar high. We want to do this with teeth, with the right substance, and we don’t want… To use a different angle, I don’t want to turn on CNN and look at some waterfront in New Jersey that looks like the waterfront in San Francisco as it looked last night, even though they had this shelter in place. Literally, I don’t know if you watched the b-roll but you had people, literally by the hundreds jogging, going shopping, holding hands and whatever. As Jim said, enough!
So, we want to get this exactly right. So, there’s two ways to do that. One is you’re very open-ended and allow folks to interpret what you mean by essential and nonessential. California has been more open-ended in that respect. At the other end of the spectrum it’s very prescribed; Pennsylvania for instance is much more prescribed with what they did last night. We want to get that balance right. And so, I’ll leave it there other than to say construction of all shapes and sizes is something that our folks are going through and considering as we speak as part of that.
Judy, any comments you feel comfortable saying about the adjacent health issues and any other color on some of the fatalities?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: Yeah, I think it’s important to note that we do track as much, just in summary form, preexisting conditions. And cardiovascular disease and diabetes myelitis is coming up with almost every single person, for those two as well. 30 and 37.
Governor Phil Murphy: So, 37 is the new one, right?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: 37 is the new one.
Governor Phil Murphy: And the age of the other fatality overnight was 53?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: 52.
Governor Phil Murphy: 52, thank you. Matt?
Matt Arco, Star-Ledger: Governor, can I just clarify when you just said, nonessential businesses are going to be shut down – did you say that will be part of the order or it will be? It’s not just on the table?
Governor Phil Murphy: It’s going to be part of the order but bear with me because I don’t have a crisp definition. As I said, the reason I went through that preamble is because we want to get that right.
Matt Arco, Star-Ledger: Just to follow up on that, because out of curiosity, you said you’re working hand-in-glove with the Governors of New York, Connecticut. Is there any reason why everybody wasn’t on the same page with this? Is that not…
Governor Phil Murphy: Nope, no reason at all. In fact, if you look at the restrictions that we have in place, even though some… If you look at what we already have in place, frankly, it’s ahead of most places who are right now claiming shelter at home. So, there’s a lot of in-name-only stuff. And by the way, there are differences in our states. So, by the way, we’re the state that came out first and we felt strongly about restricting any nonessential travel in the state between 8:00 PM and 5:00 AM. No state in America had done that. Connecticut and New York have casinos that are run through the Native American communities, which makes them a little bit different. We called up our National Guard before any of the other neighboring states.
In this case, Governor Cuomo and I were on the phone today, this morning as we have been. He was very explicit in where he wanted to go. I said we wanted to go in generally the same direction. His press conference happens to be a couple of hours every day before ours. But again, as it was when we closed public schools and private schools, we want to make sure that we got this right – that it was not just to say, “Oh gosh, we put a label on this and we should all feel good about it.” This is tough. Again, it brings me no joy to say this. The only way we’re going to beat this darn virus is if we literally stay home and stay away from each other. And we want to do everything we can to get that exactly right.
And again, we’ll come back to you and let you know a little bit more details on exactly how we’re going to and timing. And we’ll let you know that.
Reporter: Thank you, Governor, I appreciate it. This is a little bit of a lengthy one but we’ve been told that on Wednesday you held a call with hospital CEOs and nursing union leaders, and on this call you directed the Board Chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association and the President of New Jersey Hospital Association to work with nursing unions to develop statewide guidelines on using personal protective equipment. However, we’ve also been hearing from folks that certain health systems may be ignoring that charge and establishing their own PPE usage guidelines. I’m curious, Governor, is this still your expectation, that statewide PPE guidelines would be established consistent with your charge on Wednesday?
Governor Phil Murphy: The first part of your statement is absolutely right. That’s exactly what I said. I asked for a working group of both the leadership of the healthcare workers along with the Hospital Association to get into… I said ‘get into a room’ but I said I’ve got to take that back because we’re not allowing that to happen anymore, but get on a call and try to harmonize. I’m not necessarily… Whether it’s 100% consistent, I would like but at least in harmony across our systems. I, as you can imagine, have been running 1000 mph. Judy may have more color on this. I know everyone’s heart’s in it. On the call they expressed a genuine appetite and desire to achieve just that. I can’t give you an exact status point as to where it stands right now across the systems.
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: To elaborate on that, I think what’s happening right now is everybody is so anxious to make sure that we’re protecting our healthcare workers and appropriately so. I think what that short game is not addressing is what we have to address from where we sit, and that’s the long game. Our concern is the availability of PPE over time. So, when you talk about harmonizing short-term requirements with our long-term goal to have PPE available a month from now, two months from now and maybe three months from now, we need to give guidance from the Department of Health and the Hospital Association and the individual hospitals, and our homecare facilities to try to preserve and just be very judicious in our use of PPE. People are concerned about healthcare workers appropriately so and we are also. There’s a balance in there somewhere.
Governor Phil Murphy: Judy was on the call with me and it actually was a very good call I thought because folks were able to get their points of view. We had surveyed folks on our own on a bilateral basis, and the issues that we heard consistently were training consistency, application of PPE across the board, clearly levels of anxiety, daycare, questions from the workforce side – can we creatively redeploy folks from different walks of life that have some adjacencies? It was a good discussion. In fairness, it was at the end of the day on Wednesday. We’re now early afternoon, I guess mid-afternoon on Friday. We will be going back to that and doing some follow-up, so thank you for that.
Reporter: What is the turnaround time for the tests? So, the people that were tested today, when can they expect results? And second to that, the people who are unfortunately passing away from coronavirus, has there been any concern in funeral preparations? Is there any concern in contamination for funeral providers or funeral gatherings? I know you mentioned that yesterday. What are your thoughts on that, especially for the family in Freehold? I mean, that’s a large family.
Governor Phil Murphy: It is. I’ll take the latter and Bill or Jon or Judy can take the turnaround time. I was… My team deemed my answer far too charitable the other day when I sat Pat Callahan and/or his colleagues aren’t going to go in and break up a funeral. The fact of the matter is, Pat himself noted the other day that he is not going to a funeral of the mother of a fallen trooper. Not only is he not going, he had discourage any amount of folks from being a part of that.
I have a dear friend who just lost his daughter, a young girl tragically. They are German. They are heading back to Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany is enforcing a ten-person maximum. They’re literally delaying… They’re going to bury the poor little girl and do the funeral six months from now. So, my guess is you may see some of that, particularly if we’re going to go… Almost certainly we’re going to go down to something like ten people or no gatherings whatsoever. I have not been directly speaking with the Funeral Association. I think Mike Delamater on my team has been in touch with some of its members as well as the Association. I don’t want to overstate that but I think they’re taking the precautions. The more sad, realistic piece is the restriction on the amount of people gathering at one time.
In terms of testing, how quick a turnaround? Bill?
LabCorp Senior Vice President, Northeast Division Bill Haas: So, from pickup of specimen to resulting of the test, our objective is to get the result back in three to four days. With the surge in testing, obviously our labs, all of our labs across the United States are challenged to reach their objectives. We’re doing everything we can to get down to that level.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you. Jon, would you be at a similar timeframe? Tom, anything you want to add from the state side? You good? Okay.
Reporter: President Trump and Betsy Devos today offered up waivers to states to suspend the state testing this spring. Does New Jersey plan to apply for that waiver?
Governor Phil Murphy: I did not see that from the President or the Secretary so forgive me for that. We have not made a decision?
Reporter: Are you inclined to, with that offer?
Governor Phil Murphy: To be determined, new news. Pat, anything from the front in terms of an update on food distribution to the kids who are food insecure?
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan: I received a text from Commissioner Repollet about two minutes before I walked in here that the Department of Education teams are out there and again, he indicated no issues to report just about an hour ago.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you for that. Again, we have not forgotten the assessment question and we’ll come back to it when we have something to report.
Brenda Flanagan, NJTV: Hi, thank you so much. Can you talk about why you cut off testing at 600 today? I know that you had 2500 kits available and it sounds like you’re going to essentially be taking a metered approach to this. Are you able to get more test kits? People were lined up. They had to get turned away because they thought testing was going until 4:00. So, what’s the word going forward in terms of how long people should wait? The line was down the road.
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, I’m going to tee Chris Neuwirth up to give you the real answer. But I’m sorry, Brenda’s got a second question.
Brenda Flanagan, NJTV: And what did you run out of if anything?
Governor Phil Murphy: Again, Chris can answer the specifics but may I say this? We have a choice to be glass half-empty or glass half-full. The fact that we got 600 tests done on day one with the amount of demand is just extraordinary. So, it’s beyond any wildest dreams. Secondly, I believe we have 2500 per week at the moment, so our hope is to be in business each day of the week. And so, that’s another reason why and we’ve got to get these things tested at the lab. Chris, would you add anything to that?
Assistant DOH Commissioner Chris Neuwirth: So, make no mistake. Today’s test site was a success. We expected to test approximately 200 individuals, and today preliminarily we’ve tested 654. So, by all measures it was a success. Recognizing the space constraints of the operation and the ability to only store a certain amount of resources onsite at any given moment, the resource constraints is why we drew the line at the 600 or so. We recognize yesterday when we shared this with you that we knew we would adjust accordingly as we moved forward. We now know that we will be storing additional resources onsite to ensure that we can continue testing for all those that need it who arrive. So again, as we move forward tomorrow into the coming days we will ensure that the operation continues to be refined. But recognizing that, we will be taking a measured approach to ensure that it is as flawless of a process as possible. And we’ll be cutting off that line at 350 specimens per day at this site.
Governor Phil Murphy: I want to also again reiterate a huge shoutout to the Guard who kept great order, not surprisingly but guys, thank you so much. Jon Cohen, you want to add something?
BioReference Executive Director Dr. Jon Cohen: Just wanted to comment. So, first off, what Chris said is extremely correct as the Governor… Having watched multiple of these drive-throughs standup and run, 600 a day is quite a success in terms of what needs to be done at each one of these sites. That’s number one. Number two, there’s this I’m going to call it misconception about what kits are. So, I just want to make sure that I run through that with everybody. The patient gets scheduled, they come up and they get a swab taken of their nasal pharynx. What the swab is, is then put into a little vial of fluid. People are referring to that as a kit – it’s the swab and the fluid. That is then packaged and brought to the laboratory and resulted.
When you look back at the stories, there were all these stories about the CDC kit, so there was a huge amount of confusion. The CDC kit was actually a bunch of reagents, controls, primers that the CDC provided to actually give us the ability to run the tests. So, the issue is not right now the number of kits – meaning the swabs, although there’s a lot of discussion at the federal level about will there be enough swabs. The second issue is the capacity to actually run the tests. So, when you factor in all of those issues, being able to run 600 at a drive-through is quite remarkable on the first day. There is an enormous amount of logistics that have to be done – the coordination of the medical staff, having people scheduled, getting it packaged, getting it refrigerated, getting it sent to the lab and getting the result back.
Governor Phil Murphy: And Jon, I’ll also say this. Again, we’re not patting ourselves on the back because we make our share of mistakes. But not only would I underscore that, the amount of different organizations that were represented to make this test actually happen was jaw-dropping. And the fact that they were all able to come together and work as seamlessly as they did as a team is a huge credit to each and every one of the organizations.
John Mooney, NJ Spotlight: Can you talk about the protective equipment? Is the state coordinating the distribution of whatever it gets among the hospital systems? Or are the hospital systems on their own going out and buying from the various vendors? And then, is the state also coordinating or gathering data about deaths and hospitalizations to compare for the expected surge? And then, I have questions on the coming order tomorrow. Is this an enforceable? Is it a suggestion? There was confusion about a curfew versus a recommended…
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, yeah. So, I had used the word ‘curfew’ last week and it turns out it was a strong recommendation, just for largely legal reasons. To be determined, so if you can bear with me but this is going to be… If I had to put a phrase on it, it’s our way or the highway time. That’s what this is going to be. And again, I’m not trying to be mysterious. I just want to make sure we, as we’re piecing this together we get it right. Judy, would you mind talking about PPE? I think it’s and both, right? It’s both what you’re doing and the hospitals.
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: It’s and both, and I’m going to let Chris talk about the national stockpile and how we’re controlling that with New Jersey Hospital Association. I’ll go to the second question. Penn Medicine put out a predictive modeling tool and we’re working with the hospitals to populate that tool to be able to predict when we believe the surge is going to occur. So, we’re in the process of collecting data at this point. It won’t be perfect but I think it will give us an indication of when we have to get extra capacity online and then what type of PPE we need to be able to handle that. And Chris, maybe you can talk about the warehousing and the work of NJHA and the prioritization?
Assistant DOH Commissioner Chris Neuwirth: So, the Department of Health is incredibly fortunate to have such a strong relationship with the New Jersey Hospital Association. And throughout this entire event, the Department has worked in lockstep with NJHA to ensure that both organizations have a comprehensive picture of what the status of PPE is across the entire healthcare spectrum. With that being said, it was evident early on and it continues to be evident that New Jersey needs more PPE. And we have submitted requests directly to our federal partners to request additional allocations from the Strategic National Stockpile. We have worked hand-in-hand with our Congressional Delegation to continue the fight to get SNS supplies released quickly. And also, we’re out there working with vendors and distributors to procure the PPE directly using federal funds that have been made available specifically for this purchase. So, we’re not putting our eggs into any one basket. We are looking across the entire spectrum of options to ensure in any way, shape or form New Jersey will have the PPE it needs to ensure the healthcare and public health infrastructure remains capable to deliver high-quality clinical care to those that need it.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer: If you don’t mind, Governor, I just want to add part of this and why we fought for the first package was it was $8.3 billion worth of emergency funding bipartisan to help get those resources out. And it also included resources for small businesses, and in the second package food security and other pieces. But this issue that you’re talking about is so essential that you have the resources that you need in the state to be able to procure whatever it is you need to protect your frontline healthcare workers and our first responders, and of course tests and everything else. And that’s going to be one of the things… We’ve all been speaking to each other in Congress about this. We’ve got to make sure that you have the resources that you need to procure what you need to keep people safe. And so, I just want you to know that. It’s incredibly, incredibly important to us.
Governor Phil Murphy: It’s quite striking… By the way, the White House has been unequivocal and our relations have been very good. But they’ve been unequivocal in saying that they’ll do their best but you better do your best and we’ve taken that advice. Whether we’ve liked it or not we’ve taken it to heart. You mentioned this earlier, Josh. The requests are strikingly similar from around the country from governors of all shapes and sizes. And politics has at least at the first cut very little to do with it. It was quite striking on the video call yesterday what came up consistently – block grants or direct cash assistance as I’m calling it in big numbers came up from red states and blue states across the board.
I had mentioned that we had asked, had petitioned the federal government to move Real ID back. We think they should move the Census process back. That came up from states of all shapes and sizes. Personal protective equipment comes up across the board. So, as challenging as this crisis is – and we will get through this unequivocally as I’ve said many times. As challenging as this is, it has in kind of a peculiar way brought us a lot closer together. And I hope that we learn lessons that never go away from that in particular.
John Mooney, NJ Spotlight: The family in Freehold, there’s a lot of attention, a lot of people… It’s a heartbreaking story. Has there been another death related to that family? We were told there may have been one. And can you talk more about the possibility of delaying the United States Census? Is that a reality or is that just a request?
Governor Phil Murphy: On the former, I believe there were four deaths in that family, Judy, right? And I don’t think we’ve got anything more beyond that. And it’s a tragedy. It’s awful; without any hesitation, without any qualification a tragedy. I don’t know is the answer in a sense. It seems to me, just as we made decisions yesterday as it relates to elections, just as we have requested that the Real ID timetable be pushed off, it seems logical, particularly in such an intense human process like a census where you’re literally trying to go count every person and go door-to-door, it seems to me on the list of things that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push back. Would you agree?
Congressman Josh Gottheimer: I agree, and it’s a Constitutional requirement of course that we have a census. But many of us are talking and if there needs to be a legislative fix in terms of timing and how the process works to make sure that we can accommodate the crisis we’re in.
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, it’s not if we’ll do it or not; it’s the timing, right?
John Mooney, NJ Spotlight: And another school question. You’ve talked a lot about the food availability and that being the challenge. It’s been the first week of families being home, doing remote learning. Can you share a little more if you’ve had conversations with the Commissioner about how the learning is going and the lessons here, as well as is there further consideration on closing for the rest of the year as some other states have done?
Governor Phil Murphy: We talk to the Commissioner all the time as you can imagine. The remote learning for me at least has been anecdotal and it’s been largely quite good – anecdotal beginning at my own household. I’ve got three college kids and one high school kid. One of the college kids is on Spring Break so he’s had the week off; the other two are remote and our son is remote and it’s happening. I heard some really good comparisons of New Jersey’s experience right now to other states, and a huge shoutout right now to our educators. We have the best in the country and they were prepared for this, and the anecdotal evidence and I want to reiterate it’s anecdotal has been very strong.
We’ve made no decision in terms of how long schools will be closed but I will say, I don’t want to make news here but almost certainly they’re going to be closed longer than whatever date we’ve given you. But to be determined.
Reporter: Firstly, to the LabCorp and BioReference, how many tests can be processed with one CDC test kit? Does that make sense? You were saying the CDC test kits go to your facilities, and then how many samples can that process?
BioReference Executive Director Dr. Jon Cohen: The CDC formula, recipe is relatively slow. That’s part of the issue. So, the reason it is, let me take you through the process a little bit. When you get the specimen you actually have to extract the virus, the RNA virus. That extraction process for the CDC test is manual. You actually have to take the fluid out, pipette it under a hood, put it into a bunch of plates and then put it onto the analyzer with a separate set of reagents. It’s very slow. The result of that is you can do a couple hundred tests a day. What I’m sure Bill would confirm is what we’ve done is we’ve moved to automated platforms; we’ve moved away from the CDC tests. So, we’re running multiple platforms that are automated. What that means is that now you take the little vial, you put it in the machine and it runs it. So, the CDC issue for us is a nonissue right now unless we need to bring it up to run a couple of hundred more tests a day.
Reporter: Governor, you had mentioned your health and it’s great to see you’re doing well and what have you.
Governor Phil Murphy: This is the nice, slow reentry into my job that I had anticipated all along here.
Reporter: Welcome back.
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, zero to 90 in three seconds.
Reporter: We’ve gotten some feedback from viewers that they’re concerned… They wonder how is he doing it? You know, typically when someone has an operation it’s a slow reintroduction to work and things like that. How are you taking care of yourself to make sure you have the stamina?
Governor Phil Murphy: Yeah, I’ve got to be careful. I have to be careful. So, I will admit to you that the needle is at the red line and I’ve got to be very careful. So, I’ve got to really manage how much time I’m by myself at home and working the phones versus how much I’m out. This is a rare road trip other than going to my office and I’ve got to manage that very, very, very carefully. So, I appreciate you’re asking. So far, so good. I feel good. We had the checkup via Tammy’s iPhone the other night. It was a good one. It was a real wakeup call though. Again, it had to be done within a certain amount of time so this was not… I was not getting my nose done or something, right? So, this had to be done within a certain amount of time, and even with that surgery, my surgeon said that it would have been in all likelihood pushed off.
Brenda Flanagan, NJTV: I actually was kind of wondering, we had talked to some nurses and I don’t know if you saw the New York Times article regarding the personal protective gear. They’re concerned that the masks, the N95s are being rationed for the more invasive procedures. The CDC changed its protocols and that now they’re using surgical masks to do a lot of the patient care that had regularly been done with the N95s because of the scarcity, because of the shortage. And they’re concerned. Is there something that you can offer? Have you spoken with the healthcare unions about this because they are concerned about their staff’s safety?
Governor Phil Murphy: I would just say as a general matter we speak to the healthcare union leadership all the time, whether it’s HPAE, Debbie White, Sue Cleary and her group, the whole range of folks – Milly Silva. And PPE and masks specifically, rightfully by the way, is regular concern and question. I read another article today in the New York Times about a cruise ship using napkins as a mask which was shocking, but Judy, anything else you want to add real quick?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: We’re asking all the hospitals to follow the CDC guidelines and they are balancing that a bit. If you’re doing direct patient care and it’s not, you’re not involved in an aerosolized procedure you can use the regular mask. But we do and definitely give guidance. Follow CDC; they’re following what’s the profession of the disease across the whole United States and the world. So, they’re able to balance without, and still maintain precautions. And I know the flexibility in the PPE and I was on a call before I came here. The difference, hospital-to-hospital – that lack of standardization gives people a lot of anxiety, gives our healthcare workers a lot of anxiety. So, we’re trying to work with the Hospital Association and the hospitals and the unions so they understand what the bandwidth is. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same but the bandwidth is getting a little bit larger as we learn more.
Governor Phil Murphy: That’s the reason in fact – Matt asked about that call the other night. That’s the exact reason why we did that call. High on the list was PPE, masks obviously included. And again, I’d use the word ‘harmonize’ as a reasonable objective as opposed to ‘necessarily’ although we’d like to standardize. But the other message is let there be no doubt about it. And I think we’ve been crystal clear about this from the moment we started doing this – we don’t have enough. We just don’t have enough right now. We’re the number four state in the nation in terms of total positives. And we’re only behind New York, California and Washington. We do not have enough PPE and we’re doing everything we can, literally turning every single stone over to get that. So, in addition to how we use what we have, and the harmonization if not standardization, and the making sure that we’re adhering to the CDC guidelines we need more of it.
Matt Arco, Star-Ledger: Governor, so I understand this is an easy one probably to punt on because we don’t know what we don’t know. But you know, Governor Cuomo had said in a recent interview that he thinks the apex in New York, they’re 45 days out from that – that was a few days ago. Speaking with health officials, do you have any sense of where we are right now in terms of when we might hit that apex or where we are in this?
Governor Phil Murphy: It’s easy to punt so I kind of will punt it but I’m not being blithe when I punt it. I’m surrounded by healthcare experts so I’m not sure I’m the right guy to be asking this. But based on every amount of input we have we are many weeks away. And again, if we can crack the back of the curve and really not just… And again, I think we’ve been aggressive. Other states can call what they’re doing with some fancy headlines. If you look at the facts we’re probably as aggressive as any American state and we’re about to get more aggressive. The extent to which that works, and please God that it works – and if you’re driving on the roads on the state in the early evening as I was last night coming home from Trenton, the anecdotal evidence is people aren’t out there. Traffic is way down. NJ Transit ridership is down 90%. The extent to which we can crack the back of that, Madame Commissioner, it will be fewer weeks than more weeks, is that a fair way to think about it?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: It’ll be spread out. That’s exactly what we want to do. Same number of people may get infected and need some type of intervention but it’ll be more balanced. So, that’s what we’re hoping with the mitigation interventions.
Governor Phil Murphy: We used to have a chart, we don’t have it today… Different-shaped curve. And because of the shape of that curve the healthcare system will be able to much more readily handle it. Mahen is giving me the hook. One more? You good, is that okay?
Reporter: It sounds like you’re going to be rolling out the drive-through testing sites in other counties aside from Bergen and Monmouth. Can you give us any information? Will all of the testing sites the state plans to eventually roll out, will they be daily? Will they have the same hours? Are they all going to be 350 a day? And what counties and when can we expect those?
Governor Phil Murphy: Too early to tell on most of the above. So, Bergen opened today and it will be open each day, again, beginning tomorrow morning at 8:00. We will open in Monmouth at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel off of Exit 116 going on the northbound side on Monday morning at 8:00. We are speaking, Pat and the National Guard are speaking very preliminarily with FEMA to see if they can be a cosponsor on any more of those sites. By the way, FEMA is a partner in both Bergen today as well as Monmouth to come on Monday, and beyond that, I think you heard Jon talk about handful of counties that you hope to have something going over the next week or so. Again, it’s a little bit different. So, these are not FEMA-partnered sites but I think, Jon, you mentioned Burlington, Union, Essex, Ocean and Hudson Counties. Judy mentioned that we are looking and we have been looking – I spoke with the Majority Leader yesterday or the day before – about what we could do in the south. Obviously, depending on where it is in Burlington County, that will reach meaningfully into the southern part of the state. But also as it relates to acute care beds in the south, which is not a testing question but just to say while the population is less in the south the number of beds is also less in the south. And when we have more on that we will come back to you.
So, we will come back to you. Mahen, make me an honest man here. As soon as we know we’ll give you the protocol on tomorrow, whether or not it will be on the phone or whether or not it will be live. And the only reason it would be live, if we think we’ve got meaningful news to report – and I’m not suggesting the news we report of positive cases and fatalities is not meaningful. So, trust me, I don’t mean that at all. But if there’s some reason to do that and we need to be live with you tomorrow, we’ll let you know as soon as we know. Sunday will be almost certainly by telephone, the usual time. I think we’ll stick to that with 2:00.
I want to thank everybody from the far left, Tom, thank you for being here, to Bill Haas and Jon Cohen. I cannot thank you enough for your partnership with LabCorp and BioReference respectively. We could not be doing what we’re doing without you. Jim Tedesco, you’re a star, one of our heroes. Thank you, buddy, for leading in the county where this has hit the hardest. Judy, to you, Chris, and your teams, a thousand thank yous for your leadership. Josh, we can’t achieve our dreams without your fierce leadership in Congress and we cannot thank you enough for that. To our brothers in the National Guard, bless you. Col. Pat Callahan you are, when in doubt we have a question – let’s ask Pat. And my suspicion is it’ll continue to be that way. Jared Maples, to you and Jim, to your team who are with us here today, again, thank you all. I want to thank Bergen Community College for hosting us so graciously, both outside and inside and we’ll be back to you as soon as we know what’s next. Thank you.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer: Thank you, Gov. Thank you very much for what you’re doing. And by the way, you’ve gotten your response times post-surgery from 24 seconds to send a text down to 18 seconds. So, I don’t know whatever they did, you’re faster.