By Marion Filler and Kevin Coughlin
With critical shortages looming for New Jersey hospitals, state officials on Monday asked for more volunteers from the medical community, and spoke of off-loading patients to dormitories and hotels and retrofitting anesthesia machines to serve as ventilators if the coronavirus pandemic continues unchecked.
Invoking Winston Churchill’s steely resolve during Britain’s bleakest hour in World War II, Gov. Phil Murphy told citizens they are capable of exercising the extraordinary level of social distancing he said is essential to avert disaster over the next few weeks.
“We’re not an average state. We’re not an average 9 million people. This is Jersey,” Murphy said.
“How many times in the past have we done what folks said was impossible. We have lived our lives punching above our weight. We’ve lived our lives defying the odds. No state has more attitude or character. No state has been smarter over the years at figuring out what seemed to be the impossible and yet getting there and achieving nonetheless.
“We can do this. We must do this…We’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to crush that curve even further,” he said.
“We’ve got to stay home, stay away from each other, do the little things. If we do that, we will remind everybody how special, unique our state is. We have got this within us, folks. We have absolutely got this within is,” Murphy said during a 90-minute media briefing.
The latest numbers showed 3,347 new cases were diagnosed since Sunday, bringing the total in New Jersey to 16,636. Within the same 24 hour period, there were 37 deaths related to Covid-19 related complications, for a total of 198 statewide.
“Each one of them a precious life lost,” said Murphy, adding “I shudder to think what those numbers would be had we not taken the strong stance we have as pertains to social distancing.”
Murphy presented a pair of charts–one describing a nightmare scenario with no social distancing and an infection rate that doubles every six days. When peak season hits in early to mid-May, the model predicts 80,000 people could require hospitalization. Only about 18,000 beds are available.
“No amount of effort or energy could close the gap” at that point, said Murphy.
The second chart showed how controlling the spread of the virus could prevent catastrophe.
“The absolute number one weapon at our disposal is the one I keep pounding away on. That is: Stay at home and practice social distancing.”
Murphy said he spoke with President Trump and Vice President Pence on Sunday evening, and 300 ventilators from the strategic national stockpile are on their way, along with more personal protective equipment for health care workers.
The governor said another 2,000 ventilators are needed. The state is exploring ways to retrofit anesthesia machines–which are abundant and largely unused because the state has cancelled all nonessential surgeries–as ventilators, said state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli
To prepare for anticipated shortages of beds for the acutely ill, Persichilli said patients requiring lower levels of care will be moved to field hospitals being set up around the state. The healthiest patients may be cared for in dormitories and hotels as the situation unfolds.
Asked if hospitals have enough personal protective gear, such as N95 masks, the commissioner replied no, “and we’ve known that for a long time. And from the workforce perspective that’s most concerning.”
The state also continues to solicit retired medical professionals to volunteer at hospitals. Murphy said 3,611 individuals so far have responded to this call.
“We’re incredibly grateful for their selflessness and patriotism,” he said, inviting anyone with prior medical experience to visit www.covid19.nj.gov/volunteer and “join our army against COVID-19.”
Trish O’Keefe, president of Morristown Medical Center, told Morristown Green that retired professionals now can be found helping out in every department.
A number of announcements were made:
- Nine statewide COVID-19 testing sites are up and running, including a new one at the County College of Morris for Morris County residents. Appointments are required; see Covid19.NJ.Gov for details. Murphy recognized the anxiety that causes many people to want the test, but he reiterated that only the symptomatic should receive it now.
- A joint federal / state task force will investigate and prosecute reports of hoarding medical supplies, price gouging, charity scams, and procurement fraud. Callers may do so anonymously at (866)720-5721 or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the business front:
- Realtors can show properties with individual clients, but open houses still are not permitted.
- Golf courses are recreational facilities shall remain closed.
- Firearms must be purchased from authorized dealers in-person and by appointment only.
- Automobile dealers can conduct online sales and make deliveries of vehicles to customers. Service repairs shall be done with curbside drop off and pick up.
- Microbreweries are allowed to make home deliveries
- PNC has joined the mortgage relief plan unveiled Saturday by Murphy. Mortgage holders will receive 90 days grace on payments, which will be added to the total number of payments due. There is an option to extend the grace period beyond 90 days if requirements are met. Credit ratings will not be affected.
- Participating banks include Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and 40 other federal and state banks and credit unions. Murphy modeled the plan after one in California, and has the backing of the major banking associations in the New Jersey. Contact your bank for additional information.
- Under the Federal Response Bill, the state Department of Human Services will distribute $70 million in food stamps over the next two months to qualified New Jersey beneficiaries, mainly through direct deposit accounts.