Governor Phil Murphy: Good afternoon, everyone. It feels good to be back with you for the first time in a week, which is a lifetime relative to the past seven or eight months, at this point. Also welcoming you on Global Handwashing Day, Judy and Tina, I am joined as I regularly am by the woman to 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. Thank you both for being here. To my far left, another guy who needs no introduction, the Superintendent of the State Police, Colonel Pat Callahan. And, we are honored to be joined and welcome him back, the President of the Board of Public Utilities, Joe Fiordaliso. Joe, great to have you. We also have Jared Maples, Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Joe is with us, because today I am signing an Executive Order extending the moratorium on utility shutoffs. Under this order, no household may have its electricity, gas service or water service shut off for non-payment through March 15th, 2021. And if there is any customer whose service has been disconnected during the public health emergency, this order requires that their service be restored. Additionally, the moratorium against the disconnection of internet or voice services is being extended through November 15th generally; however, internet shutoffs will not be permitted in any household in which there are school-aged children who need internet connectivity for remote learning through March 15th, 2021 as well.
And before anyone has their internet or voice services disconnected, cable providers must offer at least a 12-month repayment plan that would allow consumers to pay back what they owe over equal installments. In other words, no one is to be shut off and receive a demand for a lump sum payment, and only a customer can ask for a shorter repayment schedule. I'll ask Joe in a few minutes to speak to our moratorium program, but our message to residents is clear. As this pandemic and its economic fallout continues, we will continue to have your back. And, as the winter months get closer and closer, no one should fear losing the ability to heat their home. I am grateful -- and I under underline that -- grateful to the utility companies who have worked with us thus far in a voluntary fashion, and I look forward to continued partnership and good faith in protecting our residents.
Our utility providers are offering payment plans and I encourage anyone who can start paying down their balances to do so, even if it's just a little bit each month. And if you're unable to pay it all, work with your utility provider, the BPU and the Department of Community Affairs to see if you qualify for a Payment Assistance Program.
And in a similar vein, we're also proud to announce an additional $15 million in utility assistance under the programs currently run by the Department of Community Affairs, under the leadership of the one and only Sheila Oliver. This infusion will allow us to be in a strong position to help qualified families. I also want to thank my Legislative partners especially Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senator Teresa Ruiz for working with us to have this investment included in the new state budget.
Also this morning, I signed an Executive Order that extended the due date for filing the 2019 corporate business tax annual return from October 15th to November 16th. At the start of the COVID pandemic, many filers applied for and received an extension until October 15th to file their federal tax returns. Allowing this extra month to file the so-called CBT, or corporate business tax return, which requires federal tax information is thus a reasonable step.
Next, yesterday we announced the opening of New Jersey's new state-run healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act in advance of the open enrollment period, beginning on November 1. I'm especially proud that we are able to provide better access than ever before for residents to find an affordable healthcare plan that works for them and that works for their families. Our new exchange can be found online at getcovered.nj.gov. As I mentioned, open enrollment will begin on Sunday, November 1st -- not much going on that week -- and run through January 31st, 2021. By the way, that's double the period that we've had the past couple of years, based on decisions that were made by the Trump administration.
Our state exchange is the only place where financial help is available to help purchase a plan, and this year more assistance is available than ever before. Importantly, under our new exchange, individuals eligible for subsidy assistance and premium tax credits will find the lowest net premiums since the passage of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago. For these individuals, the cost of healthcare is estimated to be $117 a month. That's a savings of nearly $50 a month from the current year, and even $30 a month cheaper than a plan purchased six years ago in 2014. Throughout the past nearly three years, we have worked hard to improve access to quality, affordable healthcare and coverage, and the past seven months have proven the importance of having healthcare, for sure. Our new exchange could not be coming online at a more important time. I urge anyone who needs an affordable healthcare plan to check out the options available at that website, getcovered.nj.gov today, so you can pick out a plan well in advance of the start of open enrollment on November 1st. I want to thank especially Marlena Kurita at the Division of Banking and Insurance that's done an extraordinary job, to she and her team, to get us to this point is really a heck of an accomplishment. Hats off to them.
Next, the Department of Labor this morning released the latest unemployment figures over the past week. Just over 29,000 New Jerseyans filed an initial claim for unemployment This is an increase of roughly 5,500 from last week. Since the beginning of the public health emergency in March, more than 1.65 million New Jerseyans have sought unemployment benefits, with nearly 1.44 million of those qualifying for benefits. Roughly 96% of all who have been deemed eligible have received a payment and that's a total of $16.5 billion, and the average worker has received nearly $12,000 in benefits. Commissioner Robert Asaro Angelo and his team continue their work to clear all eligible beneficiaries for the funds they deserve, and that includes their work to implement the new $300 per week FEMA Lost Wages Assistance Program to people whose unemployment is COVID related, an estimated by the way 800,000 New Jersey workers.
As it pertains to that program, the department is getting ready to distribute up to $1.5 billion, and eligible claimants can expect to see this money as a lump sum in their bank accounts or on their debit cards early next week. Most recipients don't have to do anything more to receive their funds, and those who do have to take additional action have been notified by the email and text from the department with instructions. This is another great example of why we need more robust, sufficient federal funds. It's not just for state and local government, it's for folks who are unemployed, who need that bridge to a better future that we all know is coming. But right now it's hard for small businesses, for restaurants, for hospitality.
We announced in Hillsborough in Somerset County the other day that we were putting out $100 million of new CRF money, especially in particular for small businesses. I'm proud of what we've done, but we can't do it alone. We need the federal government. They play an existential, unique role. They can print money, we can't. No American state can. We need them to continue to be there for a whole host of needs, and especially on this point for our folks who are unemployed.
Switching gears, the deadline for residents to respond to the 2020 census is literally midnight tonight. This is our last chance for the next 10 years to make sure that every New Jerseyan is properly counted. We have seen increased participation this year, with a statewide self-response rate -- that's the folks who have gone on that website – of 69.3%. That's higher, by the way, than any of the previous three census counts going back to 1990, and that's good news. It's because so many of you have been working with census enumerators in your communities. We are confident that more than 99% of New Jerseyans overall, either self-reporting or those working with enumerators, have been counted.
But we cannot leave literally any stone unturned and no New Jerseyan can be left behind. If you have a family member, or a friend or a neighbor or coworker who has not yet responded, tell them to go to that website, 2020census.gov, but it's got to be before midnight tonight to get counted. The census means so much for New Jersey. Our representation in Congress rides on a complete count, as does our ability to receive billions of dollars in federal funds for our public schools, our healthcare networks, our transportation and mass transit systems, our communities, and so much more. Again, this is literally the last call. Go to 2020census.gov if not right now, at least before midnight tonight. If you aren't counted today, you won't count for another 10 years.
Next, I want to reiterate the announcement made on Monday that under Executive Order Contact Practices and Competitions for sports which are designated by the Department of Health under Judy's leadership as so-called medium risk, are now able to resume indoors. That includes hockey, basketball and indoor track, among others. These activities will be held to the same strict health and safety protocols which have been in place for the outdoor sports, which have already resumed. And we recognize that more and more athletes are returning indoors, and we want to make sure they're able to do so safely and under the proper protections.
It also bears repeating that any game which requires 25 or more people to be played, and that includes players, coaches and officials, cannot have any spectators in attendance. But for many of our high school and college athletes and many adult rec league participants as well, it is game on and I am pleased that we've been able to take this step.
Judy, a quick audible here at the line of scrimmage. As we do every Thursday, we want to update folks on the in-school transmission realities and Mahen will get us to that. That's an eye chart, but let me just tell you, last week we were at 16 individual outbreaks covering 58 individuals. This week, that number is 22 and covering 83 individuals. The counties with three separate outbreaks are Bergen, Cape May and Ocean. They have three apiece. Everyone else is either zero, one or two. I remind folks that that's 22 buildings out of over 3,000 of the buildings that we oversee, obviously overwhelmingly, most of them in public schools. We take every one of those cases deadly seriously. But Judy, I have to tell you, six weeks into the school year, to have 22 cases of known transmission covering 83 people is well within any reasonable expectation that we had. So keep up the great work, folks.
The schools that either I've seen Judy, Tina, or others have seen with our own eyes, the anecdotal evidence has been really impressive. What's also happening is what we predicted, you're starting to see, as they had committed to, the remote category is slowly but surely shifting over either to hybrid, in some cases to full on in person, or in other cases to a combination. That's what we expected to happen in October into November and that is what is happening.
Finally on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to talk directly and privately with Dr. Bob Redfield, the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington. We had a very thorough conversation about where we are currently, both here in New Jersey and nationally, and what we need to do to keep pushing back against this pandemic. I'm going to, Judy, refer to this in the context of the conversation with Dr. Redfield, but it's a theme that you and I are both going to hit hard today, and my guess is we'll be hitting hard for the next many number of weeks to come.
One thing that we must be careful of are indoor gatherings, which are increasingly becoming the starting points for outbreaks. Sadly, we're seeing more and more family gatherings as the sparks for these outbreaks. Now is the time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and the broader holiday season, regardless of the holidays you celebrate. We do not want a Thanksgiving dinner to turn tragic because someone unwittingly exposed a large number of their family members to the coronavirus. We urge everyone to take stock of how many people you may be inviting to your Thanksgiving table. This is not the year to plan to visit out-of-state relatives, or to invite them to New Jersey. And whether it is Thanksgiving, or a family birthday, or we had a discussion this morning about a baby shower, we urge you to not gather around the dining room table with anyone outside your immediate household. And if you do, to limit that reach to only a limited number of close relatives or friends with whom you've been with throughout this pandemic, and to move if at all possible your celebration outdoors, maybe around a fire pit or a patio heater if you've been able to get one.
As Dr. Redfield noted, both to me and in other reported statements, and this is consistent, Judy, with what we're seeing. While we're seeing more people being vigilant in public, as he calls it the public square, it is when you let your guard down in your own home that things could go awry. So again, start planning your holidays now and please plan for a smaller table this year, so we can help ensure that you can once again gather at a larger one next year. And I mentioned, this is a topic we're going to be addressing not only today, but my guess is in the weeks to come.
The way I think about it is where we can regulate, where we can enforce compliance, we're largely -- not entirely but largely -- in good shape as a state. It's where we can't. Where we can't get inside your house, where we can't get inside a packed in, congregate, multi-generational family living especially. That's where we're seeing not all of the challenges, but that's where we're seeing the bulk of them.
So with all that out of the way, let's turn to our overnight numbers. We're reporting an additional 973 positive test results. That's a statewide cumulative total since our first case on March 4th of 216,994. Looking at so-called hotspot areas of our state, Ocean, Bergen and Essex counties all reported more than 100 cases today. Middlesex County's reporting 89, Hudson and Monmouth are both over 70 cases today.
The statewide positivity rate for all tests recorded on October 11th was 4.35%. That is up, and the statewide rate of transmission today sits at 1.16, and that's been frankly bumping along inside of a range for 10 days to two weeks now.
In our hospitals as of 10:00 p.m. last night 542 confirmed, 191 persons under investigation for a total of 733, of whom 178 in ICU, 60 required a ventilator. In each of these key metrics, total hospitalizations, patients in our ICUs, and ventilators in use, we are now seeing increases that have been carried for better than one week.
There is only one way: we don't have a therapeutic yet. We don't have a vaccine yet. There's only one way to get these numbers back down to where they were only a few weeks ago, and that's by doing the basics. Wearing a face mask, by social distancing, washing your hands frequently with soap and water. If you don't feel well, take yourself off the field. If you've been exposed to someone who's COVID positive, take yourself off the field. Wait a few days. Get tested. That's the basics. That's all we got, folks. As the weather cools, those numbers are not going to change themselves. Only we can change those numbers.
And that brings us to another number. Today, with a heavy heart, we're reporting an additional six fatalities due to COVID-19 complications. Our statewide cumulative total of lost brothers and sisters is now 14,408 confirmed and another 1,789 probable deaths. Again, Judy, as we always say at the risk of mixing apples and oranges. I've got seven deaths reported in our hospitals yesterday. But again, those are not in those confirmed numbers. With that, let's take a couple minutes and remember a few of those precious lives we have lost.
This is a tough one. We begin today by remembering veteran Newark Police Officer Marcus Thomas, who proudly served his home city for nearly three decades. Marcus was just 50 years old. Officer Thomas joined the Newark Police Department in May of 1993, serving in a variety of ways over the past 27 years. In Central Communications, on the Safe City Task Force in Neighborhood Enforcement, and in the Office of Professional Standards. In mourning his loss, Mayor Ras Baraka put it simply, and I quote the mayor, "The city of Newark has lost a truly good man who was a friend and brother to all."
Marcus leaves behind his wife Kelly, with whom I had the great honor of speaking on Sunday, and you can imagine that was not easy for her, and his daughters Cashmere and Myelle and son Jason. He's also survived by his parents, Ernest and Christine, and his siblings, Darryl, Cheryl, Hernandez, Cartrina, Jamila and Brigitte, among many other family and friends. And of course, he leaves his Newark Police family. Officer Thomas was the sixth member of the Newark Police Department lost to this pandemic. We thank him for his service to the community he loved, and may God bless and watch over him and his loved ones.
Next up, we recall John Henderson of Atco in Camden County. John was a proud Air Force veteran who served in Germany and Spain before continuing his career at the Frankfort Arsenal in Philadelphia. He also worked for the IRS, and later was a security guard. John never married nor had children, but he always remained close with his four younger sisters, and he had a knack of being able to make friends everywhere he went. Many of those friends would join John on an adventure now and then, including a trip to the Grand Canyon. He was a member of the VFW Pine Hill Post 286 and Blackwood Post 7927. He was a mainstay on the racquetball courts of the Pomona Golf Club. He loved the Eagles and Phillies and would take his 12 nieces and nephews to games whenever he could.
John leaves behind his sister's Marie, and I had the great honor of speaking with Marie at the end of last week, Bernadette, Cecilia, Veronica and their spouses, along with the 12 nephews and nieces that he loved as his own. John was 72 years old. We thank John for his service to our nation. May God bless his memory and watch over him and all those who remember him.
Finally today, we remember West Orange's Melvin Askenase who was 97 years old. That's Melvin down front. He would tell you he was born on October 14th, the same day as his granddaughter, Julia. During World War II, Mel was a member of the 855th Bombardment Group of the United States Air Force. Yes, another Air Force veteran today, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and service to our country. When the war was over, he enrolled at New York University and put the leadership skills he learned in the military to a new use, becoming president of his class, on his way to receiving his degree in commerce and finance. Mel was also called back to serve in the Korean War in 1951. The confidence he gained through his service also gave him the self-assurance to approach one of his classmates, Selma Krasna, and ask her out on a date. They married and March 6th, 1949, the start of what would be 46 years of marriage before her passing.
Together, Mel and Selma would raise three children, and they are right there behind them, travel the world and spend countless hours dancing and laughing. Mel was also renowned for his ability to spin a good yarn and would relish the opportunity to tell stories from his war days, or elsewhere from his life to his family and friends. Although there could be some question to which parts were real and which sprung from his imagination, it didn't matter. His nephew by marriage, Mark Levinson, a dear friend who chairs our New Jersey Israel Commission described Mel as sunny, optimistic and the word best was a big part of his vocabulary. It was the "best" dinner he ever had. The "best" sandwich he had. It was the "best" day that he had ever lived.
Mel leaves behind his and Selma's children, and you can see them there, sons Richard and Alan and daughter Bonnie, with whom I had the great honor of speaking at the end of the week, and their spouses, along with his five beloved grandchildren David, Joel, Michael, Sidney, and Julia, with whom he would have celebrated a birthday yesterday, which would have been Mel's 98 and his two great grandchildren, Mason and Cole. A life well lived and worth remembering and celebrating. Thank you for your service, Mel, to our nation and for all you did throughout your life. May God bless you and may your memory be a blessing to all.
Switching gears, let's take a moment to highlight another of the small businesses partnering with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to ensure a stronger and more prosperous future as we look forward to our eventual emergence from this pandemic. Today, we're heading to Morristown, home of the Gregory Legal Group where Paul Gregory, there's Paul on the left and his team, work almost exclusively in providing a full suite of legal services to small and medium-sized family-owned businesses.
When the pandemic hit, many of the deals and projects that Paul and his team were working on with their clients were either cancelled or postponed, and business fell by roughly 35%. To protect his business and employees, Paul reached out to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to secure a small business loan that is helping him cover expenses as his business begins to recover. I had the opportunity to speak with Paul at the end of the week, and we share an optimistic view of our future both for our state and for his business. I know together we'll get there. By the way, check them out, GregoryLegalGroup.com.
A couple of quick other audibles. Yesterday I had a great visit to Atlantic City, my second in four or five days. We broke ground on a big new important project for Stockton University, yet another project for Stockton in Atlantic City. We all know what happens when higher education is in your town, it leads to great things and that is a great example of it. We also had a very good meeting with casino leadership and labor, talking about the struggles they've had, obviously, and how we can work together on steps going forward.
I also want to say today we broadcast on Facebook Live a great discussion with our CEO Council which sprung out of our Restart and Recovery Commission. The Commission is chaired by Shirley Tilghman, former President of Princeton, and Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck. The Council is co-chaired by Ken and Charlie Lowery, the CEO of Prudential. We had a bunch of other CEOs on, and collectively that CEO counsel committed to 30,000 incremental hires by the end of the decade. And not just hiring them, but work developing and upskilling them with a particular focus on communities of color and underserved communities. And by mid-decade, an additional $250 million from diverse suppliers, all from New Jersey, the hires as well as the suppliers. And if that weren't good enough, they then challenged the rest of the corporate community to come up with an additional 40,000 hires by the end of the decade from diverse and underserved communities, and an additional $250 million from diverse suppliers by mid-decade.
And by the way, I've spoken with not only the group in the council, but also to some of the other folks who are going to get there and I have full confidence that we'll achieve all of the above. There's no reason why any other state in America can't do what we announced today, and it's a real public-private partnership. The state's programs, including ones we already have as well as innovative new ones we'll need, plus the efforts underway already by these corporate citizens. I can't say enough about them and their leadership. There's no reason any other state hasn't done this, but they haven't. New Jersey's done it. So not only is this a game changer for our state, but God willing, it can be a model for other states to follow, and the country can benefit from it as well.
And finally, for today, and this one is a tough one, I want to quickly note the passing of a tremendous young man from New Jersey, Chase Meola, who was senselessly murdered in an act of gun violence near the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where he was a senior preparing to receive his degree in marketing. Chase was a native of Mahwah, and back home Chase was a standout on the football field for the Mahwah Thunderbirds. Our New Jersey family reaches across the nation and around the globe, with proud New Jerseyans literally in every state and territory and every country in the world. I know Chase loved his hometown, and it loved him back. We send our condolences, deepest condolences, to his family starting with his parents, Paul and Margaret. I had a conversation with Paul the other day and you can only imagine the heartbreak that they're going through, as well as to Chase's two brothers. It's an awful, awful, awful tragedy.
A GoFundMe page in Chase's honor has been established and his parents said that all proceeds will go to endowing a Memorial Scholarship. That way, his life will be remembered and the opportunity he never saw come to fruition, his graduation, will be passed on for others to fulfill. God love that guy and his family.
That is where we will end today. Judy, before we bring you up to bat, do you mind if I go to my left and we'll hear from Joe first? Please help me welcome back the President of the Board of Public Utilities, Joe Fiordaliso. Joe, thank you.
Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso: Thank you, Governor and it's good to be here with you. Initially, you described what you're going to be doing this afternoon extremely well. I just want to add that I talk to my colleagues, fellow Commissioners throughout the country, and what we're doing here in New Jersey, other states in our country don't even come close. So I personally want to thank you, Governor, for your leadership in guiding us through this. And not only guiding us through it, but ensuring the fact that we take care of our fellow New Jerseyans.
This is part of what the extension of the shutoff moratorium is all about, one of the ways that we have tried to ease the situation for residents who are struggling. The national numbers of unemployment rose again this past week, and close to 900,000 Americans filed for initial unemployment claims. Here in New Jersey, we have been working with utilities to not shut off, put a moratorium on shut offs of essential services, supplemented by prior executive orders impacting cable, the utilities have voluntarily agreed not to discontinue service like heat, gas, electricity and water through today, October 15th. And as the Governor mentioned, this is being extended across the board for our residential customers until March 15th. And March 15 actually commemorates the end of the winter season moratorium that the heating companies abide by every single year. This helps get people through this very difficult time.
I do want to mention that utilities have been extremely cooperative. Most of our utilities here in the state of New Jersey just stepped right up to the plate. I talk to the CEOs of these utilities almost on a daily basis, and most of them stepped right up to the plate and said whatever you and the state of New Jersey and the Governor need, we're there to help. I ask you to keep that in mind as we go through this, that there are good corporate citizens. Some do push back, I have to be honest. But with this Executive Order, they're all going to have to comply with the no shut off moratorium that's going to continue.
I do ask though, that each resident, each utility customer, please reach out to your utility. Reach out to your utility in order to set up a payment plan. These moratoriums are not free. Eventually, one has to pay their bill so it's incumbent upon you, I would suggest, that you reach out to your utility, you reach out to them, set up a payment plan so that at the end of the moratorium, you're not faced with such a gigantic bill that it becomes overwhelming. The utilities are willing to work with you in order to set up this payment plan. I don't want to see anyone caught in a position where they drown underwater because they can't pay that bill, or start paying off that bill. So please, if you have any questions, our phones at the Board of Public Utilities are open, available to assist you if you can't get in touch with your utility. But I know that they're anxiously awaiting to hear from you so that we can proceed in an orderly fashion to start reducing the debt that you have to them.
Someday these moratoriums are going end and I don't want any of our citizens, I know the Governor doesn't, to be caught short, so plan now. And again, as I said in the beginning, there are very few states in the union that are doing what we're doing here in the state of New Jersey. Also, utilize the assistance programs that are available to you if your finances dictate that you need that help. And I know there are many, many people who are experiencing unemployment, maybe for the first time, because of this pandemic. Don't hesitate. Reach out to the Board of Public Utilities. Reach out to the Department of Community Affairs. There are programs like USF, GLI, which are available to assist you. Just remember, you're not in this alone. We're here together. And together. We will eventually get through this. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Phil Murphy: Joe, thank you. Thank you for your kind words. Thanks for your leadership. I echo your point, overwhelmingly outstanding corporate citizenship, whether it's in the utility space, whether it's in that CEO Council I mentioned. Overwhelmingly, folks realize we've got to find common ground and we're all in this together. I echo the point you've just made, which I alluded to in my remarks. Folks, get a plan organized, even if it's a small chunk, so that you don't face a tidal wave at some point down the road. As you rightfully point out, this is not going to go on forever so anticipate that.
Again, Joe, thanks for your leadership. With that, please help me welcome the woman to my right who needs no introduction, the Commissioner of the Department of Health, Judy Persichilli. Judy.
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: Thank you, Governor and good afternoon. This week, the CDC shared that small gatherings are an increasing source of spread of COVID-19. As the Governor shared, CDC Director Redfield observed that when individuals are out in public, they appear to be more stringent in following precautions such as masking and social distancing than during household gatherings. Last week, the CDC released a study of a family gathering where extended family members stayed in a house together for several weeks. That led to an outbreak. One adolescent with COVID-19 spread the virus to 11 other family members, including her mother, father and grandparents.
This outbreak reminds us that even when we are with family members, we must adhere to public health guidelines to keep our loved ones safe. There's several factors that contribute to the risk of getting infected, or infecting others with the virus that causes COVID-19 at a gathering. Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
Consider hosting activities with only people from your local area as much as possible. Indoor gatherings pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible. Gatherings that lasts longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Adherence to preventive measures influence risk. Individuals should stay at least six feet apart, wear masks, practice frequent hand washing. Provide or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help you and others stay healthy. For example, extra masks and hand sanitizer. Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer individuals. Limit the number of attendees as much as possible.
But remember, small gatherings can also be a problem. Being cautious when you interact with others is particularly important, as New Jersey is seeing increasing signs of community spread in the state. The COVID activity map that you can see on the screen looks at case rates, the daily new COVID cases per 100,000 people per region. It looks at the percentages of COVID-like illnesses, which is defined as fever and cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or the presence of coronavirus diagnosis codes, and the percent positivity.
As you can see from the timeline at the top of the screen, during March 28th through April 25th, we were in very high activity marked as red on the map. This was during our surge. This is the first time the entire state has been in the yellow zone. We do not want to see the red zone again in our state, but that depends on all of you. On personal accountability to take proper precautions to limit the spread, social distancing, wearing a face covering, washing hands frequently, and staying home when you're sick.
We are seeing increasing case rates in all regions. Percentage of COVID-like illness is up in every region except the Southeast. There are increases in percent positivity in the Central East, the Southwest and the Southeast. This slide shows the factors that go into classifying activity levels in the regions, and is posted on our website.
Moving on to my daily report, as the Governor shared, our hospitals reported 733 hospitalizations of COVID-19 positive patients and persons under investigation. A short six weeks ago, that was barely 300. There are 178 individuals in critical care, 34% of the critical care patients are on ventilators.
We are reporting one new case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. There are now 59 cases in our state. Thankfully, in New Jersey, there are no deaths reported at this time.
The percent positivity total for the state is 4.35%. The Northern part of the state reports 4.45%, the Central part of the state 4.28%, and the Southern part of the state 4.28%.
At the state veterans homes, there are a total of 393 cases among our residents, 146 deaths among our residents, and that's a cumulative count. At our state psychiatric hospitals, cumulatively there are a total of 223 cases and 13 patient deaths.
Yesterday, we surpassed the 4 million mark on tests performed in the state. This concludes my daily report. Stay safe and remember, for each other, for us all, please take the call and download the app, COVID Alert NJ. Thank you.
Governor Phil Murphy: Judy, thank you for that, and thank you for going through the regional analysis. One thing that strikes me is when you go through the regional spot positivity, and you compare it to the statewide, it's all in a very tight range, Tina, right? What that tells us, I think, is that yeah, there may be hotspots here or there but we're dealing with a statewide reality right now.
And then secondly, to underscore the point both you and I have made, and Pat, you're part of this. Where we can enforce compliance, when we can monitor, when we can regulate, we're not batting 1,000 but we're batting a pretty high rate right now. It's where we can't that is our challenge, right? It's the multigenerational, packed in, it's the family gathering. To some extent, it's probably off-campus housing still, as we've seen in places like Monmouth University and others of late, and that's got to change. That has got to change, because the virus ain't going to change. What we do has got to change. Thank you for everything. Pat, over to you. Compliance, how's our fire brigade doing? Any other matters of note? Thank you for everything.
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan: Thank you, Governor and good afternoon. With regards to compliance in the past week, there was just one cited and reported to the ROIC, and that was Anjum's Lounge in Newark. Police responded to a shooting actually there, and the establishment was well beyond the 25% capacity.
With regards to our forest fire service, they are, as of about a half hour ago, in Ohio and if all goes as planned, they'll probably be back home safely in New Jersey by around midnight tonight. So a long, full, four-day trek across the country. And if I can, just to echo both yours and Judy's remarks about the social gatherings. I think one thing Dr. Birx said last week that resonated with all of us was that people struggle with believing that their family and friends can give them this virus. It was a good point, and I was reminded of it as I sat here when we talk about those family gatherings and that struggling to believe that your loved one can give it to you, I think, is a valid reminder especially with what we're seeing throughout the state and country. Thanks, Gov.
Governor Phil Murphy: Amen, Pat. Please, God, no family has to go through this. But remember, Judy, the Fusco family early on, that were devastated, absolutely devastated following a family gathering. An innocent, nobody knew that they were – no one was symptomatic. No one knew that they may have been carrying the virus and I believe five deaths from that one family gathering alone. So amen to that, and welcome back to our, God willing by midnight tonight. When you said they were in Ohio, I thought, please God, they're not fighting fires in Ohio, but they're in transit and please, God, they'll get back safe and sound by tonight.
So we'll start over here. Before we go to Dustin, a couple of things. We will be virtual tomorrow unless we think there's a reason to be otherwise, as well as Saturday, Sunday. This is an unusual week because of a Monday holiday. Unless Mahen tells me otherwise, we'll go back to a Monday-Thursday format for next week. I also want to say we've been joined by Matt Platkin, and that's notable for a number of reasons, including this is his last -- unless we change our format for tomorrow – this is your last press conference. Matt, thank you for not just your help in these press conferences but for your extraordinary service over the past two and three-quarters years, and for the many years you and I knew each other beforehand. And the good news is, we'll still know each other when we wake up on Monday morning. Thank you, pal, for everything. Dustin, over to you. Good afternoon.
Dustin Racioppi, Bergen Record: Good afternoon. Do you have any update on whether or when fans will be able to attend football games at MetLife Stadium?
You said the other day that you've determined that the Bedminster event from a couple weeks ago didn't cause any outbreaks. What about EO violations? If not, what's the cause for the delay?
The Paterson School District approved a resolution last night to extend remote learning until at least January, mid-January next year. Will the State Education Department allow districts that started the year entirely remote to extend that into 2021?
Governor Phil Murphy: Dustin, which school district? Sorry?
Dustin Racioppi, Bergen Record: Paterson. And this is probably most fitting for the Health Commissioner or Dr. Tan. Do you have some specific examples of clusters or micro hotspots that the DOH has investigated in addition to places like Lakewood and Rowan, and do you have a comparison of the average age of new cases and deaths in the recent wave compared to earlier? Thanks.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you. May I try to answer a couple of these Judy and Tina and then throw it to you? Nothing new on fans at MetLife, so there's nothing to report there. On Bedminster, actually I raised this. I should have said this earlier. I had a very constructive conversation with Dr. Redfield that I did reiterate and we had the sense that the CDC -- Judy, you heard this as well -- had wanted to play a more robust role in contact tracing after the Bedminster event, but they were unable to. I raised that with him just to make sure on the record that we could have used their help. And as of this moment, I didn't ask you this an hour ago, but we're not aware of any outbreaks that are related to it. As it relates to EO violations, that's a matter unless Matt tells me otherwise, for the Attorney General.
I don't want to speak for Kevin Dehmer and his team, and obviously Judy has input on this. I think if the extension is warranted, we have to consider it. Matt, you may want to weigh in on that, but for instance, if I don't know the Paterson specific, and so I haven't looked at that and reconsider that, I may come back to you or we may come back to you. But if for instance it was a ventilation matter, and it still is not cured because not all the work has been done, if it's a legitimate reason, I think we have to be open to extensions. But again, there has to be a legitimate reason, a plan, including what we can do to help and then a date that is reasonable to achieve.
We are clearly seeing what we thought we would see, I mentioned this earlier, migration beginning from all remote to hybrid. I think the migration from hybrid to full on is going to be a lot slower and a lot less. You okay with that? And Judy and Tina, over to you, any other color? Clusters, we've spoken about Lakewood, and including a couple of other surrounding communities in Ocean. Higher education has clusters, I mentioned Monmouth University, which is a big reason why the West Long Branch numbers are where they are in terms of positivity.
Age, I think you asked about age and other demographics. I think we've said, but if we haven't we should say, and I think this is a sense that we're getting from our healthcare providers and it's a national trend, it's gotten younger over the course of this past seven-plus months. Anything, Tina, you want to add to that?
State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan: That's right, at least in terms of looking at the cases and how they've changed and shifted since the beginning of the outbreak to the present, definitely we're seeing more cases occurring among the younger age groups. So, below 50 is one example. We have to remember that as we've been monitoring these cases throughout time, and as we continue to hear from our local health departments about outbreaks that are occurring throughout the state, there are a lot of expected clusters that we're seeing. We're seeing small clusters associated with the schools, as mentioned earlier. We're seeing small clusters still occurring with long-term care facilities, still occurring among workplaces, still occurring among various small gatherings as well. So this, we're not surprised because of the reopening efforts but at the same time, it's just a reminder that we have to continue to stay vigilant.
But it's also good to know that the numbers in each of these clusters, they tend to be smaller than what we used to see early on, which also demonstrates, for example in the long-term care setting, that there's more of awareness, there's more vigilance to making sure that a lot of infection control measures and other preventive measures are taken early on to really prevent things from becoming worse than they should be.
Governor Phil Murphy: Forgive me, I'd like to jump on with two additional points. So baseball terminology, there have been some big realities. And again, I will say that our working relationship with elected leaders, faith leaders and others in and around Lakewood has been outstanding, but there's no escaping the fact that that's been a hotspot. Judy and Tina have plussed in big time testing and tracing into those communities, higher ed. But for the most part, Tina, I'll use baseball terms, forgive me, this is a bunch of singles and doubles, small ball stuff that's a little bit here, a little bit there. Is that fair to say?
State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan: Yeah, that would be fair to say. Of course, we have seen larger but for the most part they're these small, singles and doubles.
Governor Phil Murphy: I'm appealing to the baseball side. The other point is to remind, and this is I guess a blessing, Tony Fauci reminded us, Judy, a couple of weeks ago, that even if the numbers do go up and we get a second wave, whatever that might look like, we did enter this period in a very strong position. The numbers are going up. Someone reminded me today, Mahen, it may have been you, but Iowa is at a 20% spot positivity right now. North Dakota, you and I talked about the other day, they're out of beds. We pray for everybody in all those places. We entered into this, what feels like a wave or a surge, in a very strong position and that's a good thing, thank God. Thank you for that. Brent, good afternoon.
Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger: Good afternoon. What data shows that a close contact sport like wrestling is now allowed, but restaurants are still restricted to 25%?
When will you release an updated directive on indoor visits to nursing homes? The federal government is more lenient than New Jersey is on that.
How many tests are being conducted each day in Ocean County?
Could we get a positivity rate every day like we get the rate of transmission, to give a better sense of how bad these outbreaks are?
Governor Phil Murphy: Hold on one second, Ocean County, testing and then you mean even electronically?
Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger: Yeah, on the COVID data, like we now have a rate of transmission on the dashboard. Is it possible to get positivity rate?
Governor Phil Murphy: Yes, right?
Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger: And then for the BPU Commissioner, were there any utility companies that previously didn't voluntarily agree?
And this one's from Dan Munoz. Has the state qualified for its own travel advisory, and have the governors of Connecticut and New York mentioned they might consider restricting New Jerseyans travel? What would your reaction be if New York, Connecticut or Pennsylvania levied the 14-day quarantine against New Jersey?
Governor Phil Murphy: Listen, with all due respect to Daniel's question, there are states right now that restrict travel from folks from New Jersey. I've got a fair amount of relatives still in Massachusetts, they restrict travel from New Jersey. The punch line for me is not that premise for Daniel, wherever he is. I know he was on a virtual event earlier today. It's frankly, the conclusion I draw is don't travel. Don't travel unless you have to, particularly right now. And we're going to do everything we can. We're not going to spend a lot of time complaining about whether or not we're on somebody's other list. We're going to spend all our time working to get our numbers down. I jumped to that one ahead.
Listen, on indoor dining, Judy can comment on the indoor sport reality but the fact of the matter is, we continue to be in the position, we don't believe -- we don't have any evidence that there are any outbreaks coming from indoor dining, indoor gyms, indoor entertainment. And in particular indoor dining, as you can imagine with the casino leadership yesterday, that was a topic of discussion. Unless Judy tells me otherwise, that's something we're going to get to sooner than later. I know I've said that before, but that's coming to a boil. We think that responsibly, unless the roof falls in over the next number of days, we're going to be able to get to a broader capacity there.
Judy, I'll jump to spot positivity. I see no reason why we couldn't put that on the dashboard every day. We know it, right? Yeah, I mean, I don't see any reason not to. So unless we come back to you and tell you otherwise. Mahen, if you could help us out there.
Judy, indoor visits to nursing homes, we know we're stricter than the federal guidelines. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and on how much testing is going on in Ocean. I know we've got gobs of testing statewide right now, but any comments on that?
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli: Yeah, I don't have the actual number, I can get that for you. Because we monitor that every day, we have about four or five sites right now active in and around Ocean, primarily in Lakewood.
The visits to nursing homes, we have another meeting today. We are going to be a little bit more restrictive because we still have 150 active outbreaks in our nursing homes, as Dr. Tan shared. Although they're smaller, we're catching them more quickly and mitigating and stopping the spread, we still believe we have to be very vigilant because of the wide scale spread throughout the state. With the state all being in what we call the yellow zone, that just reminds us that there's wide scale community spread, so we're going to be a little bit more careful. We also have revised the directive to include the antigen testing. There's a couple things that we're trying to put with one revision. Hopefully, we'll get that out soon.
Governor Phil Murphy: Judy, we've said this lately more to schools, obviously it's back-to-school season and thank God we're not in the meltdown that we had in so many long-term care facilities around the state, frankly, around the country and around the world. But it's important to underscore which is your point about being yellow, it matters what's going on inside the building, but it also matters what's going on outside the building, right? Those are not disconnected. The community reality matters here.
Joe, any comment on that? Not to put anybody on the spot, but any comment on Brent's question about anybody not going along with this?
Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso: Yes. And I won't put anybody on the spot, certainly. But yes, there was pushback to answer your question, from some, for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons was that some of those who did push back a bit answer to a mother company that is outside of the state of New Jersey. They had to justify to higher-ups the reasons and so on, and were actually encouraging stronger action by the state so that they could sell it to their mother companies.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Brent. Sir, do you have anything? Yep. Give us one sec.
Reporter: A couple for you, Governor. First off on the ACA, if it is overturned by the Supreme Court in the future, what would New Jersey stand to lose in federal healthcare subsidies, and what would the impact be on the state's budget and on residents? And following on that, how do you ensure that the state subsidy lasts beyond a Murphy administration?
A couple others. First off, how many people have voted by mail thus far and how do you think the process is working?
Lastly, the number of MVC agencies forced to close because of workers getting COVID keeps going up; 11 agencies have lost a combined 100 workdays due to COVID closures. What more can your administration do to protect and test agency workers so the MVC can keep all its locations open?
Governor Phil Murphy: All good questions. On ACA, I mean, healthcare is front and center in this big Supreme Court battle. There's no getting around that. This is not my job but I will just say the overwhelming amount of Americans, nevermind New Jerseyans, want the Senate and the Congress to be focused on the next stimulus, desperately-needed stimulus, and not on jamming this nomination and confirmation through. I've got to get that off my chest.
I don't know what the numbers are in terms of dollars, but it would be devastating, depending on what it looked like. Devastating for our state, devastating for every state. Pre-existing conditions, Matt, I believe in the millions, hundreds of thousands of seniors would lose access to medication, women to contraception and other healthcare. Kids up to their mid-20s who can now stay on their parents healthcare plans, it is a complete meltdown.
The Affordable Care Act, there's this myth spinning out there that there's something wrong with it. This has been a game changer, never mind the employment that has come from it. This has allowed state residents to get access to healthcare that they never had before, or in many cases to afford it at a level they could not before and New Jersey has led the nation. Witness setting up our own exchange, witness that new subsidy that we're charging that replaces the federal, driving most of the proceeds from that to folks who cannot currently and have not historically been able to afford healthcare, overwhelmingly in communities of color, that now can. It's a meltdown.
The state subsidy, I assume you mean the HIA subsidy I just referred to, that's a law. I've signed that into law, so that last unless Matt tells me otherwise, that's not an Executive Order. That's going to last forever and for always, and that's not a coincidence, we needed that.
Vote by mail, I believe it's over a million so far that we just announced last night. And so far, it's going really well. Five of the six Murphys are able to vote. We went out Friday night, dropped our -- Sam who could not vote held the flap of the secure box open and the five of us dropped our ballots in the box. I think it's going really well, as we expected.
Again, folks, you all got a ballot, you have four choices: mail it in, and we'll stay on the postal service to make sure that it's dealt with expeditiously. If you don't like that, as we did, drop it in a box. We've got almost 300 of them around the state. If you don't like that, show up on Election Day, hand your ballot to a poll worker. Or, if you don't like that, you can vote in person. Seems to me that covers all bases. It balances public health with the sacred right at the core of democracy to vote.
Listen, if folks are frustrated by Motor Vehicles, I don't blame them and so am I, period. But having said that, in this case, to your question, we've got to follow public health guidelines. And remember, while there is lots of noise, and there should be, by the way, around people being outside, a big part of that reason is the inside looks completely differently than it used to. All the health protocols are being observed, social distancing, partitions, face coverings, etc. That's forced more people outside.
I would just say this: we can't avoid the public health responsibilities, and that includes their playbook to shut places down if they've had COVID positive. Secondly, if you're frustrated, I don't blame you. I am too. So is Sue Fulton and her team, they're doing everything they can. They're chopping through this as best they can. Thirdly, you can go online and do a lot of business that you don't need to show up for to do in person and what you can do online, that list is going to grow so watch that space. Fourthly, please don't camp out overnight. You don't need to, there's no reason to do that. Show up when they open, get your number, get your appointment time, leave and then come back for that appointment time.
But again, I know people are, even if you do all that it isn't perfect. I get that, and we won't rest until it gets perfect. So thank you. Sir, you have got one or two here, I can just feel it.
Reporter: Regarding the Lakewood Public Schools, since reopening, there have been 27 positive cases in the district, 16 staff and 11 students. Based on the guidelines by the DOH, it seems it would be necessary to close the schools for two weeks, but they remain open. Is there any chance you would consider closing schools in this region like they did in New York? Thank you.
Governor Phil Murphy: I mean, I'm taking your numbers on their surface. I actually don't have that number in front of me, the total of 27. We did say there were three incidents or outbreaks of in-school transmission in Ocean County. I won't speak specifically to the Lakewood schools because there's a protocol and that's a decision that local health authorities, in addition to the local leadership of the school district have primary responsibility for, but it's pretty clear what the playbook needs to look like in order to take certain steps. Judy, I've still got my grid If This, Then That. It depends on again, it will depend again, I'm not specific to Lakewood, it depends, was it in the same classroom? Were the cases connected or were they in different buildings, different rooms, different wings, disconnected? So it matters in terms of not just the numbers of cases, but the specific reality of them.
Anything want to add to that, or are you okay? Okay, thank you for that. Elise, nice to see you.
Elise Young, Bloomberg: Good afternoon, two questions. The New Jersey Jobs Report today showed an abrupt drop in unemployment, but also in labor force participation. What's behind the latter? Are people no longer looking for work?
Also, Brent reported yesterday that New Jersey has reached its own bar for self-quarantining. Is the state, along with New York and Connecticut, planning to raise that bar? Thank you.
Governor Phil Murphy: Thanks, Elise. On the second one, I've got no firsthand knowledge of raising the bar. Judy may, because she's in touch with her health counterparts. But I would also reiterate the point that I made earlier. We're already on other states' lists. Our job is to not complain about being on those lists, but to do everything we can to break the back of the numbers and get it into shape and that's what we'll continue to focus on. And secondly, I think there's a big flashing sign here. This is not a good time to travel. Travel only if you have to. Are you okay with that, Judy and Tina, in terms of anything you want to add there?
And then your first question, I believe, any color to the fact that put aside what the numerator looks like, the denominator, people have just thrown in the towel and left the workforce. I don't have any color on that but I'm not shocked by it. These are desperate times for a whole lot of families, a whole lot of workers in our state and in our country. I can't speak to every case, clearly, but you've probably got people who are kind of throwing the towel in and giving up that there's any realistic near-term change of course that's available to them. I think that's awful.
I've already got through the data in our state and what we're doing with the FEMA extra top-up piece, but we desperately need Congress to pass a big, robust -- sufficiently robust, I might add -- bill that is signed by the President that gets to the needs that are the highest right now in our country, and folks who are unemployed are at the top of the list. Small businesses, restaurants, states, local municipalities, counties, to keep people employed, to keep them delivering the services. We've got to give people a reason to believe. We've got to give them hope.
We'll do everything we can in our state. We have and we'll continue to, but we can't do it all, no state can. We need the federal government to come in and come in not just in a modest way and not just at some point, but come in in a big way, and come in now. Matt, anything you want to add to that?
Again, Matt, thank you for your service. I say that publicly, again. I'll mask up here. Judy, Tina, thank you. Likewise, we'll be in touch as we all know, but we'll see you if not before, on Monday. Joe, thank you for your leadership. You've had loss during this period, so you continue to be in our prayers. God bless you, pal. Pat, thank you for everything you're doing. Jared, Mahen, the rest of the team. Again, we'll be virtual with you unless we think otherwise it's warranted tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. We'll be with you again, back to that Monday, Thursday, rhythm next week.
And again, folks, thank you overwhelmingly for everything you have done and continue to do. I think if we had one theme Judy and Tina and Pat, one theme today is don't assume when you walk through the door to your home or to your friend's, or when you're just in a non-regulated, non-enforceable environment, that you can let your hair down, because you can't. We all have to acknowledge that and that's particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, with Hanukkah, Christmas, other holidays. We have to approach these holidays, approach our living reality in a way that's different than the past.
And by the way, if we do it, it's a downpayment on our ability to get back to the good old days sooner than later. So sacrifices we might make this Thanksgiving allow us to be that much stronger and much more normal next Thanksgiving, by example. Thank you again to everybody. God bless you all.