U.S. declares major disaster in New Jersey, freeing federal aid for the state

KYW Staff
March 26, 2020 - 12:04 pm

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UPDATED: 4:15 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Phil Murphy announced 2,492 new positive cases in New Jersey, bringing the state total to 6,876 positive cases, almost 200 of which are in the southern part of the state. He also said there were an additional 19 deaths, bringing the state total of coronavirus-related deaths to 81, with five being in South Jersey. 

The federal government has declared a major disaster in New Jersey, which Murphy says will bring more federal help to the hard-hit state.

Related: The latest coronavirus news from Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Murphy also said the decision to reopen schools lies with him, and there will be no decision on the topic until April 17.

The infection rate is estimated at just under 32% of those tested. But health officials are giving hospitals a heads up to get ready to increase their number of critical care beds because more people are being hospitalized overall. 

On the economic front, Murphy said he’s attempting to gather just how much of the $2 trillion federal aid package will come to New Jersey. But whatever amount it is, he plans to ask for more.

New drive-thru testing site

A drive thru COVID-19 test site is open for the afternoon in Burlington County at the county emergency services training center in Westampton Thursday afternoon. 

All tests are by appointment only, and all appointments have been taken.

About 160 people are expected to get tested between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

“We used a screening process based on CDC guidelines to schedule people for appointments,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, who heads up the county’s COVID-19 and is a doctor by trade.

“We thought, based on the experience that we’ve seen in other parts of the state, that by scheduling appointments we could reduce some of the issues and disappointment quite frankly that people face when they arrived and weren’t able to be tested," he added. 

County officials say there may be additional testing on Monday and Wednesday of next week, depending on whether they can get testing kits. But he says supplies are limited.

"Our facility, as well as doctors offices and hospitals in the county, have received numerous requests for testing. As you know, it’s a national issue. We’ve struggled to find testing supplies and the equipment needed to safely do the testing, but we have that in hand and we’re ready to go," he said.

Conaway says each test will take two to three days to be handled by a pair of private labs before people can get results.

People seeking a test must be Burlington County residents or an emergency staffers, such as medical personnel or law enforcement; and they must register and make an appointment by calling 609-726-7097.

Conaway says they will announce additional testing days as supplies allow.

Meanwhile, Conaway confirms that the deaths of three residents occurred at the Laurel Brook Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center. Some staffers are also being treated as operators of the facility screen the rest of the staff as a precaution.

“They take their temperature,” he added. “They’re issuing questionnaires to ask them about their symptoms. They’re checking them on the way in and on the way out. They’ve brought in a third party to run a deep cleaning process through their facility and they’ve brought in experts on infectious disease to advise them.” ​

The wider view

U.S. deaths from the pandemic have now topped 1,000. It's another grim milestone for a global outbreak that is taking lives and wreaking havoc on economies and established routines of life.

The global death toll has climbed past 21,000, and Spanish and Italian medical workers are at breaking point as the coronavirus wages a war of attrition against health care workers around the world. 

Meanwhile, the Senate has unanimously passed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package, steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems overrun by the virus and its fallout. It now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass on Friday.

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For more information for state residents or to see the job portal, visit https://covid19.nj.gov/.

KYW Newsradio's David Madden contributed to this report.