Press Conference: Gov. Murphy Update On COVID-19 In New Jersey

Gov. Murphy's Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 daily briefing.

Video Transcript

- Earlier today Governor Phil Murphy gave an update on the coronavirus in New Jersey. Here's what he had to say.

PHIL MURPHY: Joined today by the woman on my right who needs no introduction, the Commissioner of the Department of Health Judy Persichilli. To her right, another familiar face, the state's Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan. Great to have you both here. To my left, a real treat to welcome back acting Commissioner of the Department of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan. Angelica, great to have you. We have Jared Maples, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, [INAUDIBLE] guard Chief Counsel Dan Bryan, a cast of thousands. Pat Callahan is not with us today. And I'd ask you to keep him and his family in your prayers.

He would want me to say the following. The weather is still finding its way out of the state. It's doing a little something outside as I came in. The state police-- and this is state police only, this doesn't include county, local or DoT data, but the state police only. 665 accidents that they responded to. 589 motorist aid requests. Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and her team at the DoT, in addition to the Colonel, did an extraordinary job at the peak of the storm yesterday. They had 4,000 pieces of equipment on the roads. It's like a invasions every other week here, Judy. It's incredible, the logistics.

The power grid held up very well. I think, as I say sit, here believe it or not, there are 66 outages in the entire state which is extraordinary. There was a peak of 4,000. Not clear that that was related to the storm, but again, this is still winding its way through and it's going to be a little chilly. And then we look like we may have some more weather next week, which is almost hard to believe. You'll bear with us as we run through the program a little bit more quickly today. Judy and I are taking the entire team on and off-site to Cancun.

JUDY PERSICHILLI: [LAUGHS]

PHIL MURPHY: That's not true. Listen, a failure of leadership is no laughing matter even though that's a line-- a cheap line that I got off. But I will tell you something. Our hearts are bleeding for the Texans right now. The story after story after story. Please, God, we have reached out to Governor Abbott's office and team to offer our help and we will be there, as we always are, for other states in need. I know Pat would have said that if he were with us today and I'm sure he'll say it when he's back with us on Monday.

And unlike some folks, Senator Ted Cruz is one who voted against sending aid for New Jersey. We are never been and we never will be in the two wrongs make a right category. We will always be there for our fellow states and our fellow Americans and this is no exception. Please keep our blessed brothers and sisters in the great state of Texas in your prayers. And please, God, may we see some real leadership there.

Angelica, switching gears to something closer to home, is with us today because the Department of Education is releasing its plan to address learning gaps in the increase in mental health issues among our students and staff, including our extraordinary educators, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While our schools and educators have done tremendous work in this extraordinarily stressful past 11 months to keep our kids learning, we know that our students are still facing themselves incredible stress. And I will let the commissioner give the fuller picture but here is a snapshot. We think this is the most comprehensive plan being put forth by any American state.

So we're utilizing the latest round of federal elementary and secondary school emergency relief assistance provided by the most recent coronavirus relief package. That totals $1.2 billion in support for New Jersey schools. Now, 90% of that, and Angelica will correct me if I'm wrong, which is basically a little bit over a billion, will be distributed to all of our districts-- so the schools that we have oversight responsibility for-- to be used across a broad range of COVID-related needs. I think there were 15 categories as I read it, Angelica. And this is everything from, as you said, in classroom learning loss that the district reprograms-- that the district may want to do, after school programs, all the way to new HVAC systems or other ventilation realities.

But I want to highlight a couple of pieces of this plan. And these, in my way of thinking, are accelerants. It's not just the money that each of the districts and schools will get, but it's what can we do. And Angelica and her team have done an extraordinary job sort of layering on top of that base amount of money a couple of programs that we think are unique in America right now that we believe, and more importantly the experts believe, will address both learning loss and mental health challenges.

So we'll offer $75 million in grants-- this is all in addition to that money that I just discussed. The 90% of the $1.2 billion. $75 million in grants to regular operating districts, charter schools, renaissance school projects, county vocational school districts, to help curb learning loss and accelerate learning. These efforts can come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Whether it be greater access to one-on-one tutoring or broadening summer learning programs, providing educators with new professional development opportunities, and parents with new tools to help promote their kids learning.

Also, in addition to that 75, and again, through the use of the federal relief funds, our schools may apply for $30 million worth of noncompetitive grant funding to help them strengthen mental health supports for their students and school staff. We are also using some of our state set aside funds to help broaden the use of DOE's Start Strong Assessment so we can have a measure of attaining where our students are at the beginning of the next school year and beyond. And on assessments more generally, the Department will be applying to the federal government for a waiver of statewide standardized testing administration and accountability requirements. We went over this in great detail. The reasons to apply for this waiver are many-fold and very valid.

To be sure, importantly, we have not yet received any indication from the Biden administration as to whether a waiver of assessment administration will be accepted and we also recognize the importance of statewide assessments to gauge where our students learning may be. But given the need to ensure our students' instructional time is maximized and the levels of stress on them, our educators, our school administrators, our parents and families are minimized, we are putting forward the waiver request. As I mentioned, in a few minutes, Angelica will go into much greater detail on each of these issues. And again, great to have you with us.

Outside of this announcement, my office will be submitting its application today to the federal government for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools federal program which will allow the Department of Education to provide COVID-19 grant assistance to our non-public K-12 schools. More information on that grant program will be forthcoming from the Department.

My words say this has been a challenging year. I believe that's the understatement of the century. Is that fair to say? But we remain unwavering in our commitment to our educational communities. And again, I thank commissioner Allen-McMillan and her team at the Department of Education for all they are doing every day to support our schools, our students, our educators, and our families. Right now, Dan, we're told we're going to go to the base-- I want to make other quick-- calling one other quick audible. I wanted to say this at the top but I want to repeat.

The New Jersey Council on the Green Economy is coming together incredibly well. Members of that council will be announced, I think at this rate, next Wednesday. Stay tuned. It's an extraordinary group they're putting together. I want to thank Senior Policy Advisor Jane Cohen and Honorary Chair of the Council, First Lady Tammy Murphy.

Next, and moving to a different department but staying in the area of helping our kids, the Department of Human Services is again extending several of its COVID-19-related child care assistance programs for families and providers. These programs will now continue through the end of June. The Department will also continue to waive co-pays in the state's child care subsidy program for parents who request it due to impacts from COVID-19. For more information, please visit that website, childcarenj.gov. Childcarenj.gov. We know how important access to affordable child care is for our working families, especially in times like this. So I want to thank Acting Commissioner of Human Services Sarah Adelman and her team for continuing to look out for them-- for those in need throughout this pandemic.

Now checking in, Judy, on our vaccination efforts. Four of our six mega sites were closed yesterday due to the winter storm so today's numbers didn't grow by as much as they otherwise would have. However, everyone who had an appointment for yesterday has been rescheduled. So we will make up for each of these vaccinations. As of mid-morning, we are reporting a total of 1,559,569 vaccinations having been administered-- shots in the arms already done-- across the state. And that includes, Judy, more than 1.1 million administered first doses and I've got more than 456,000 second doses.

Now as Judy will get into in more detail, weather issues not necessarily in New Jersey, but in this case elsewhere in the country-- we've spoken about the tragedies unfolding in Texas, but this has been a whole of nation weather challenge. Those weather issues have impacted the delivery of new doses. And because planes at major hubs for both FedEx and UPS have been grounded due to the weather, this week's delivery has not made it to us on time. We are working with all of our vaccinators for them to use existing inventory to satisfy their current appointments. However, we are keenly aware that not all sites have the inventory on hand to be able to do this. And this will result in many appointments needing to be rescheduled.

Now to be clear, everyone who wishes to be vaccinated will be. Period. We have directed our sites to prepare to ramp up operations and extend hours to efficiently manage this delay once their doses do arrive. We know that the doses have been allocated-- that we have been allocated, pardon me, will eventually be delivered. The rescheduling of your appointment as a result of these weather-related delivery delays.

In fact, in this case, elsewhere in the country. This is not a matter of how many doses we will get. We know the number. But rather, Judy, a matter of when we will get them. Both the Department of Health under Judy's leadership and representatives from my office have been in regular communication with our vaccination sites throughout the week to help us all get through this potential delay. We will continue to remain in close contact and we will help with any logistical issues for making sure everyone gets vaccinated.

After the first major storm earlier this month, our mega sites showed that we can meet the dual demands of vaccinating both those with regular appointments as well as those whose vaccinations had to be rescheduled. In the days following that first major storm, our mega sites were administering to upwards of 10,000 people a day until all the rescheduled appointments were cleared out. So the good news is we have the capacity. We built our vaccination program to handle this capacity. We simply ask-- and we understand people are anxious and/or frustrated-- we ask everyone for a little patience considering the latest kink mother nature has thrown into the works, not just here but nationally.

And on the topic of vaccines, here is the latest progress report by both CVS and Walgreens as they continue vaccinating residents and staff at the long-term care centers that are part of the federally run pharmacy partnership. And again, I want to repeat, Judy and team took the time to submit-- and it was overwhelmingly approved by the Feds-- the broadest definition of long term care of any state in America. As we've noted, CVS and Walgreens are scheduling multiple clinics at each facility they visit-- as many as four-- to ensure that all residents and staff are given ample opportunity to be vaccinated.

So far, as you can see-- I've got a different number here-- but it looks like 1,083 facilities have completed their first clinic. Is that your number? 873 facilities have completed their second clinic and 167 facilities have completed their fourth-- their third clinic. Fourth clinics are just starting to be scheduled where they are needed. And by the way, Judy reminded us the other day-- I want to make sure I get this right-- fourth clinic-- CVS and Walgreens committed to three clinics-- the fourth clinics are typically of one of two reasons. One is there may have been an outbreak. Or secondly, weather or some other logistical. So to the credit of the teams at CVS and Walgreens, they've committed to doing this sort of make up round as need be.

All totaled I've got 190,083 vaccinations have been administered to our long-term care facilities. This is a nearly 70-- seven zero-- percent administered rate. Now, three Fridays ago that number was at 12%. It has come a long way. It's still not as good as the other pile, which is the stuff that-- the doses the Judy overseas that the state controls. Remember, CVS and Walgreens are a federal program. On the state side, as of this morning, Judy, I showed we had administered 88% of all the doses that have been allocated. So progress, while not in a straight line by any means, continues to be made on all fronts of the vaccination effort.

Now with that, let's turn to the overnight numbers. Today we're reporting an additional 2,679 positive PCR test results, 593 presumed positive rapid test results. That totals 3,272. Statewide rate of transmission is now at 0.91. The positivity rate for the 43,848 PCR tests recorded this past Monday was 7.58%. I don't ever want to say I told you so, but we predicted that the weekend positivity rate was higher and it would come back down. And as we've said many times, there are fewer tests on Saturday and Sunday and folks probably are going out to get tested on Saturday and Sunday because they feel like they have to. That they don't feel well or they've been exposed.

This just in. And we've said this many times, it might be smart, folks, if you want to get tested to get a test scheduled on Saturday and Sunday because we know that capacity well exceeds demand on those two days of the week and on holidays.

In our hospitals we continue to see promising signs as the numbers overall continue to decrease. The total number of patients being treated last night was down, again, to 2,202. That's the lowest, Judy, I think, in many months. Of this number, 2,028 are known COVID-positive and 174 awaiting results. We had 443 of those patients in ICUs. 300 ventilators in use.

Throughout the day yesterday, as you can see, 323 live patients left our hospitals. 216 new COVID patients were admitted. And sadly-- and again, we're comparing apples to oranges. These are not confirmed-- we have been told that 33 blessed souls lost their lives. However, we can confirm this. That 64 additional folks have been confirmed losses from our extraordinary New Jersey family. You can see the total number's now 20,495 confirmed and another 2,289 probable deaths.

Let's recall three more extraordinary New Jerseyans who we have lost. First up, this guy-- this is all you need to know about this gentleman when you look at that picture. Nelson Cheng, a native of Taiwan, who had called Hamilton Township in Mercer County home for the past 35 years. It won't be-- you won't be surprised to hear in about a minute or so what his line of business was. Nelson and his wife Leslie came to the United States from Taiwan in 1978. They first settled in White Plains, New York and they soon after moved to Parsippany where Nelson started a career as a hibachi chef at the Bonzai Restaurant in Denville. And when a second location was opened-- of the Bonzai Restaurant in this case-- in Hamilton in 1985, Nelson signed on as head chef and part owner.

But Nelson's American dream was to own completely his own business. And that dream was fulfilled in 1989 when he purchased the Carvel Ice Cream Store in Hamilton's Yardville Section. Judy, you are a Mercer County through and through. I suspect you have passed through that Carvel store many times. Always community-minded, Nelson's Carvel maintained strong ties with many local organizations and sports teams. Generations of Hamiltonians knew Nelson. The store remained his passion and his pride and joy right up until his passing on February 10th.

Nelson gave so much of himself to his store that he left little time for other hobbies, though he'd find the time to indulge in his love of Chinese and Japanese movies, a good pastrami from Katz's Deli in New York City, or a gin and tonic made by his daughter. But most of all he loved, in order, his family, his store, his employees, and his customers.

Nelson's services, by the way, were just Wednesday, two days ago. He leaves behind his Leslie after 43 years of marriage along with his two children Nicolas and Jessica. And I had the great honor yesterday morning of speaking with all three. He's also survived by his brother George and sisters Julie and Chiumon and their families. And he leaves countless friends both here in New Jersey and back in Taiwan. And he leaves for sure a grateful Hamilton. We are honored that Nelson chose to be part of our family and the place where his American dream came true. And may God bless and watch over him and his family. And boy, will he be missed.

Next up today we remember Sharon Cohen-- on the right-- of the Lake Hiawatha section of Morris County. Sharon passed on February 6th, one week to the day after she lost her best friend and husband of 47 years-- the guy on the left-- Arthur, not to COVID but to a heart ailment. Sharon was a working mom, one of the many who found a way to balance a full-time job with raising two kids. But in every aspect, she and Arthur were a team, never missing a family event, and together, looking after friends and neighbors and never refusing to help someone who needed a lift.

Sharon was a devoted grandmother and aunt and maintained a close circle of friends with whom she would check on almost every day. This was second nature to her as she lost her father at a young age and took on the responsibility of caring for her mother as she grew older with her sister Millicent. And she learned to deal with Arthur's many bad dad jokes and was always his best audience-- boy, can I appreciate that-- even when her response was a knowing eye roll and sigh.

Sharon leaves behind her and Arthur's two children Jason-- who's from Cleveland, Ohio these days and I had the great honor of speaking with him on Wednesday-- and Alicia who was in Maryland, and her two beloved grandkids Henry and Ada. As Jason relaid, and I quote him, Arthur and Sharon couldn't live without each other and now they are together again. I hope that knowledge brings some solace to all who knew and love them. May God bless and watch over each of them and the family they leave behind.

And finally for this week, we celebrate this woman, the life of Shirley Matulewicz, a long time Pattersonian who we lost at the age of 85. Shirley was a bright light and loving and compassionate presence to everyone around her. She especially cherished her roles as mother, grandmother and great grandmother. One of her greatest passions was sewing and she was renowned for her ability to fix just about anything. Shirley is now reunited with her beloved husband Robert, who passed away 12 years ago, and with her son Thomas, who also predeceased her.

She leaves behind her surviving children Donna, Tracy, Robin, William, Larry, and Robert, and their families who blessed her with 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. She also leaves behind her brothers William and Gary and many nieces and nephews. I had the great honor on Wednesday to speak with one of those grandchildren, Donna's daughter Leslie who lives up in Riverdale, and she spoke glowingly about her grandmother. May God bless Shirley and may her wonderful and loving spirit continue to watch over her family.

So for Nelson, Sharon, Arthur-- sorry for Nelson, for Sharon and Arthur, and for Shirley and for their families, let's honor them by maintaining the practices that have kept us going for nearly 11 months now. We can't let up with our social distancing, wearing our face coverings, or using common sense. We have to do it for ourselves but even more for our families and our communities. This is a fight that can only be won if we win it together, if we pull together to do just that.

That goes, by the way, as well, to supporting the small businesses in our communities as well. They have also been a central focus of the efforts of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. And this is another reminder to our small business community that the EDA's small and micro business PPE Access program application window is again open. As we've discussed before, the PPE discount program could save participating small businesses up to 70% off their purchases of personal protective equipment for their employees and for their customers.

So one business that has saved is the Eiros Group, a three-year-old Hunterdon County-based organization that works directly to provide for individuals with developmental disabilities, focusing on solutions for challenges such as accessible housing, employment, transportation, education, health care, and community engagement. It's a fascinating group. Their first question when they meet you is, what are your hopes and dreams? As so many folks in their community have been stripped too often of their hopes and dreams and they make it their business to bring folks, not just back in touch with their hopes and dreams, but back into the community.

Jennifer Brown, right there on the right-- and she's an extraordinary woman-- and her team of roughly 20 employees serve a clientele of 58 individuals across 12 counties. Through the PPE discount program, Eiros has been able to procure the protective equipment that both staff and clients have needed to stay healthy throughout the pandemic. And the money they've saved has meant more money for meeting their core mission. I had the great opportunity to check in with Jennifer on Wednesday and to thank her and her entire team for their commitment and compassion for some of our state's most vulnerable residents. Check them out. It's eiros-group.com. E-I-R-O-S-group.com.

She wanted me to give a big shout out to her husband, Mike, who has been her partner in this from day one. And this is not abstract for Jennifer or Mike. They've got three kids, one of whom is, as she described it, profound special needs, 24-year-old Kyle. They also have Connor who's at Rowan University and Katherine who's at Stetson University in Florida. So keep up the great work, Jennifer and Mike and team. The Eiros Group is one of the roughly 9,000 small businesses that have collectively saved more than $7.6 million through the PPE discount program. And if you need to enroll your business, please visit that website, covid19.nj.gov/ppeaccess. I'm grateful to Tim Sullivan, to Kevin Quinn, and the board and the staff at the EDA-- everybody there-- for their commitment to our small businesses and I'm grateful to every small business who has looked to the EDA for support.

In that vein, I have to give a shout out to these two New Jerseyans who come from my neighborhood, Barton and Kristina Henderson of Red Bank. They own a promotional company in Red Bank. But when the pandemic took hold, they expanded into PPE production launching their own face mask manufacturing business and providing-- free of charge, by the way-- masks to organizations nationwide through their Masking Up From Coast to Coast campaign. Many of the masks they've produced have helped groups across our state who are working to ensure families have food for their tables. Among their beneficiaries or organizations I think many of you know very well, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Fulfil Food Bank of the Jersey Shore, and Lunch Break in their home town of Red Bank.

They've also donated thousands of masks to our frontline health care workers and first responders, including police and fire personnel in numerous towns. A total, Judy, of more than 100,000 masks. Extraordinary. So Barton and Kristina, hats off to you. They represent the true giving spirit of New Jersey. Yes, we look after our own and we look after others. Maybe they're not in New Jersey, but we will always stand tall. But we always make sure everyone has what they need, too, so hats off to Barton and Kristina.

Finally today, I have to acknowledge two passings, one of which I just heard about just before coming over here. A sudden loss, Tamika Alan-Jackson at the age of 46 passed suddenly either last night or this morning. She is-- if you don't know Tamika she is the sister of a dear friend, Angela McKnight, Assemblywoman, in Hudson County. Tammy spoke to Angela a short while ago. I then spoke with her. As you can imagine, she's incredibly busted up. I asked for permission to raise Tameka's passing and I said it in the very simple sense, the more people we have praying for her soul and for her family, I hope the better and faster she'll get to heaven, because that's exactly where she's headed. So God bless you Tamika and God bless you, dear friend, Angela.

And finally, today, we must acknowledge the passing of a giant, Jack Rafferty, the former longtime mayor of Hamilton Township right here in Mercer County. He served six years on Township Council before being elected Hamilton's first full-time mayor, a post he held from 1976 until 1999. Over his 24 years in office he helped transform Hamilton into the thriving and growing community it is today. He also spent a term-- if that weren't enough-- in the state assembly. His legacy is seen throughout Hamilton. And by the way, folks on both sides of the aisle have saluted his passing. Jeff Martin, the current mayor, Dave Freed in Robbinsville, a dear friend of ours as well, Brian Hughes, county executive. I'll add my name to the list.

The legacy can be seen in Veterans Park and Hamilton's New Jersey Transit Station which serves so many area residents, and in bringing a hospital into the community. An institution which, by the way, is now the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton. The Hamilton YMCA was a particular favorite cause of his and today it's building bears his name. He was also a big supporter and a leader in the election of President Ronald Reagan. Jack was 82 years young. We send our condolences to his family and to every Hamiltonian whose life he impacted.

And that is a good place to end. I hope everyone has a safe weekend. It looks like the weather's going to be chilly but warming a bit next week and all the snow and ice, God willing, will have a little bit of a chance to melt away before we get our next storm. A final quick program note, and that is, my budget address for the upcoming fiscal year will stream online via social media at 1:00 PM this coming Tuesday, February 23rd. I look forward to sharing the details about our budget. Now is the time to look ahead and put in motion a plan to spark New Jersey's economic recovery. We will not allow this pandemic to pull us backward. In the meantime, stay safe, continue to be smart, and let's keep working together by the millions to stop the spread.