New Jersey’s coronavirus cases continued their surge with nearly 3,700 confirmed patients and 44 deaths reported on Tuesday, ranking the state second highest in the country behind hard-hit New York, while Pennsylvania officials warned that the commonwealth’s total of cases would continue its “exponential” growth.
With millions of people in New Jersey and eight Pennsylvania counties — including Philadelphia and its suburbs — now under stay-at-home orders, officials continued attempts to stop the spread of the deadly virus and secure more hospital equipment before the number of patients becomes unmanageable.
“If anyone is looking to me for a reason to justify the steps I have ordered,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday, announcing the case increase and death toll, “I can now give you 44 of those reasons.”
And after New York passed 25,000 cases, White House officials urged anyone who had recently visited New York City to self-quarantine for two weeks — a directive sure to reverberate through the Philadelphia region, just a short Amtrak ride away for workers and day-trippers.
“We are just the test case. And that’s how the nation should look at it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday as he repeated appeals for the federal government to release supplies to his state. “Look at us today. Where we are today, you will be in three weeks, or four weeks, or five weeks, or six weeks.”
Philadelphia’s Public Health Department was “considering options” regarding quarantine measures or regulation for people coming to the city from New York, a spokesperson said Tuesday night.
North Jersey continued to bear the brunt of the spread with nearly 2,000 of the state’s positive coronavirus cases; South Jersey reported slightly more than 300. A total of 12,000 people had been tested as of Tuesday. In Pennsylvania, where nearly 9,500 people have undergone testing, 851 people in 40 counties were confirmed to have the virus and seven people have died.
Even as case counts grow — partly due to spread and partly due to more people being tested — officials said that doesn’t mean prevention measures such as staying home and closing nonessential businesses aren’t working. “We can’t flip a light switch,” Murphy said.
Soon, the region may be able to see evidence that the efforts to slow the spread of the infection are working, said Montgomery County Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh, who is also a physician. Residents who have spent more than a week in various states of quarantine or isolation should not be discouraged, she said.
“Just the opposite,” Arkoosh said. “We’re cautiously hopeful that we’ve been able to put social mitigation strategies into place … and [will be able to] keep that curve relatively flat compared to a lot of other places.”
On Tuesday, the urgency of preparing the region for the expected onslaught of cases took on many forms. New Jersey announced plans to bring temporary hospitals to the Atlantic City Convention Center and three other locations.Pennsylvania said it was talking to manufacturers about making medical supplies and working on plans for expanding hospital space, and Gov. Tom Wolf expanded Monday’s stay-at-home order to include Erie County.
And the effects of the pandemic continued. The Pennsylvania House approved a proposal to postpone the state’s 2020 presidential primary election to June 2; the legislation will go to the state Senate for a concurrence vote and then to the governor’s desk. The governor of Delaware also moved that state’s primary to June 2 on Tuesday. New Jersey canceled statewide school assessments for the year after receiving a federal waiver.
Cuomo and Murphy both called for the federal government to release more supplies, saying their states have received a fraction of what they need and have requested. “What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo said at a Tuesday briefing. The governor said he told federal officials: “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”
New Jersey is also set to receive 200,000 more N95 respirator masks and 84,000 surgical masks from the federal government — but weeks ago requested more than two million N95 respirators and more than 850,000 surgical masks.
And in South Jersey, a drive-through coronavirus testing site at Camden County College in Blackwood sat full of tents, sinks, and traffic cones, but empty of patients, because kits promised by the federal government have not yet come in.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, along with 15 other attorneys general, sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Tuesday urging him to use the Defense Protection Act to order companies to manufacture essential supplies and “dramatically increase” health-care and testing capacity.
Murphy said Tuesday he had also asked the Trump administration to grant New Jersey a federal disaster declaration under the provisions of the Stafford Act. New Jersey would become the fourth state to get the designation — after Washington, California and New York — and could more easily collaborate with the Federal Emergency Management Administration in its response to the pandemic.
While officials in county after county and state after state reported an increase in coronavirus cases, Trump said on Tuesday he wants the country opened up “by Easter,” a suggestion that defies the recommendations of public health and medical experts, who have warned that the current restrictions are the only possible path to slowing the spread of the virus and preventing deaths.
Without the current restraints on business and public activity in Pennsylvania, officials believe the state could confront the same dire outcomes as Italy, where thousands have died, and New York.
“From a public health perspective, we would not pull back from restrictions,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday. “It is far too early to change those prevention and mitigation orders.”
Even with the restrictions on business and social activity, it will take until Easter or later to determine whether the spread has been curtailed, said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
“If we do this right, then maybe, maybe, within two to four weeks we can see evidence of slowing the epidemic wave,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State Police issued 27 warnings to non-"life-sustaining" businesses that remained open on Monday, the first day of enforcement of Gov. Tom Wolf’s business-closure order. Police in New Jersey began enforcing the state directive to stay home, breaking up gatherings and citing people who defied it.
One tenant who hosted a gathering of more than 30 people in Salem County was charged with a disorderly persons offense, a local police chief said on Facebook. And a Monmouth County man was charged with terroristic threats, harassment, and obstructing the law after coughing on an employee at a Wegmans grocery and telling her he had the coronavirus after she asked him to step back as she covered an open display of prepared foods.
“These are extremely difficult times in which all of us are called upon to be considerate of each other — not to engage in intimidation and spread fear,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gubrir S. Grewal.
Philadelphia police have been instructed to “not stop and detain any individual for violating any stay-at-home order,” according to a memo distributed to police commanders. Instead, police are simply asking people to go home. But after getting questions about parties and Airbnb gatherings, Philadelphia officials said large parties were prohibited under the city’s order and would be addressed if they happened.
“We will continue to engage with them and with our police,” Mayor Jim Kenney said, “and try to get people to use their common sense and stay the hell home.”