NJ Prepares For Possible Second Coronavirus Wave As School Starts

·7 min read

NEW JERSEY – Just as many schools are starting on Tuesday, the Murphy administration is taking steps to prepare for a possible second coronavirus wave that could not only impact schools all over the state, but also affect New Jersey's economy while much of it is reopening.

Indeed, New Jersey has gathered millions of pieces of personal protective equipment – gowns, gloves, masks, among other things – to make sure hospitals aren't caught flat-footed and desperate for help (see the list of PPE below).

Schools also have developed plans for reopening, and they dictate what needs to be done in case of outbreaks that would force districts to go fully remote. (see the list of all districts and their plans for the fall below).

"Building this stockpile is how we've been working to protect against the next wave – please God – or the next pandemic, even while we continue to fight this one," Murphy said. "We will not be caught unprepared."

State officials say they're taking steps because they're worried about early research showing people's immunity from the virus may only last a few months.

Indeed, New Jersey's models have suggested that the growth of the virus – which has slowed to the point that it's among the lowest in the nation – could tick right back up again once the weather gets colder in October.

New Jersey is also preparing since Murphy administration's recent moves to reopen the state's economy by restarting gyms, indoor dining, movie theaters and indoor performance venues could also contribute to a virus resurgence. Read more: Gov. Murphy: NJ 'Well Into' Stage 3 Of Coronavirus Reopening

No bigger test of that, however, could be the reopening of schools, and the Murphy administration is proceeding cautiously even as it's pushing for districts to reopen with in-person instruction.

The schools are reopening as the number of cases continues to rise in New Jersey. Read more: NJ Coronavirus, School Reopen Updates: Here's What You Need To Know

Here's what New Jersey is doing to prepare for a second wave:

Preparing schools for the worst

Even as many schools are opening their doors, the Murphy administration is still reviewing plans to make sure they not only balance the physical health needs of students, teachers and administrators, but also the potential psychological damage caused by months of quarantining.

On Friday, Murphy said the Department of Education had received at least 804 reopening plans from districts, charter schools and schools for students with disabilities. Of these 804, 723 plans were complete, 86 had been returned for revision, and one – from a district with one school – has not yet been reviewed.

Murphy said his administration is working quickly with the districts that still need approval so they don't have to start the year on a completely remote basis. But officials also want to make sure that these districts are prepared to go remote – conquering the "digital divide" that many of the poorer districts struggle with – in case a second waves forces school buildings to shut again.

"The department has kept an open, active line of communication with those districts to ensure that these plans end up where they need to be," Murphy said.

Of the 723 finalized plans, 388 are reopening with hybrid in person, 60 with all in-person learning, 238 are all remote and 28 are some combination of all of the above. Read more: NJ Issues Rules For In-Person Education In Schools Amid COVID-19

"Again, it's a school year unlike any other," Murphy said. "Please know folks: Don't expect normalcy, or at least an old normalcy. Let's all bear with each other on this, and that includes what happens if we get COVID positives."

Here is the list of each school district in New Jersey and whether they plan to go remote, establish a hybrid plan of both in-person or remote instruction or go completely in-person (republished with permission courtesy of NJ Spotlight):

Gathering equipment and getting hospitals ready

Murphy said one of the key things his administration has discussed since this pandemic began is the need to ensure "long-term resiliency" and preparedness for the "next outbreak."

Akey piece of this, Murphy said, is ensuring the supply of personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, including in long-term care as well as law enforcement and public safety personnel.

"As I've noted before, we cannot again find ourselves in the situation we were all in a few months ago, relying only on the federal government or on corporate and philanthropic partners," he said. "And again, to this day, we thank all of the above for being there in our hour of need."

After the outbreak began in March, Murphy said, "we were running around sourcing this frantically, literally around the world. We need to have (personal protective equipment) at the ready and capable of being deployed at a moment's notice."

Murphy said his administration has recently undertaken an aggressive program to source the PPE and establish a three-month supply in New Jersey's own "State Strategic Stockpile."

Here is what the Murphy administration has done:

  • New Jersey set a goal of collecting 5 million N95 masks, and Murphy said the state is already at 94 percent of that, or 4.7 million masks, with more coming in every month.

  • For surgical masks, New Jersey currently has 1 million in stock and another 12 million on order to be delivered within the next month.

  • With face shields, New Jersey set a goal of having 2 million in its warehouse and, right now, Murphy said the state has 1.7 million.

  • New Jersey has 1 million hospital gowns currently on order with delivery expected in a matter of weeks, and these will be added to the 2.1 million currently in stock. When this next order is received, the state will have 300,000 gowns above its goal.

  • New Jersey has a lofty goal of collecting 110 million gloves, and the state's warehouse currently has 1.9 million. An additional 75 million are on order and will be delivered within roughly six weeks, Murphy said.

  • The state has a stockpile of 1,447 ventilators that can be deployed "at literally a moment's notice," Murphy said. Another 500 are on order, and the state says there are currently about 600 ventilators in New Jersey's hospitals.

  • The state has built up a stockpile of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, with more than 1,100 cases in at the ready.

Getting ready to pull the plug on the economy, if necessary

Murphy said two weeks ago that he won't think twice about canceling indoor dining and other high-risk activities if a second wave comes. He's been particularly concerned about indoor activities because of the lack of ventilation, and because the virus is 1/19 more lethal outside than it is inside.

During his Friday news conference, however, Murphy sounded more confident that his recent reopenings won't be reversed by a second wave. He noted that New Jersey's numbers have sunk to a very manageable level after peaking in March and April, and the state had its lowest confirmed death toll in months on Monday. Read more: Gov. Murphy: Lowest Daily NJ Coronavirus Death Toll In 6 Months

During the news conference, Murphy was asked if he foresees having to pull back indoor dining, movie theaters or gyms, much like he did in June when he planned to reopen them and then reversed his decision.

"I do not," he said. "I mean, we took that step the last Monday in June with a heavy heart that we pulled back from a prospective opening of indoor dining."

Health officials will tell him if things get out of hand and "we absolutely reserve that right (to reverse), but we're not doing this anticipating that that's going to happen," Murphy said. Read more: Gov. Murphy Issues 58 COVID Reopening Rules For NJ Indoor Dining

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This article originally appeared on the Hoboken Patch

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