New Jersey’s coronavirus death toll is nearing 15,000 after a review of death certificates added 1,854 fatalities in which the virus was believed to have been the probable cause, officials said Thursday.
They also said the rate of infection transmission has been creeping upward in the Garden State in recent days. In Philadelphia, officials indicated the case counts continued to plateau rather than decrease.
Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania suburban counties are preparing to move to the “green” phase of reopening on Friday. In Bucks County, health officials said they will regularly patrol bars and restaurants on nights and weekends to ensure patrons are wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The city will enter a modified green phase Friday, with some restrictions remaining in place until next week.
“We know for a fact that these are high-risk areas where things can happen if we’re not careful,” Health Director David Damsker said. “Bars and restaurants have been through a lot.… We want them to thrive and we want them to succeed. But they need to follow the rules, just like the gyms do and the hair salons do.”
Delaware Gov. John Carney announced late Thursday that he was delaying the next reopening phase in the Diamond State, which had been scheduled for Monday, saying, “Too many Delawareans and visitors are not following basic public health precautions.”
Philadelphia on Thursday reported 107 new infections, consistent with an average of about 100 new cases per day over the past week. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said earlier this week that he is concerned the number of new cases in the city has leveled off rather than continuing to decline.
As officials wait to determine trends in new cases of the coronavirus, hair salons, barbershops, and private pools will be permitted to open Friday before the city moves to green next week.
On Thursday, City Council passed a bill that would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against staffers who refuse to work in conditions that expose them to the risks of the coronavirus and who speak out about their experiences.
If signed, it would make it easier for employees in the city to sound the alarm about unsafe working conditions related to the pandemic. A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney has said the mayor supports the bill.
The University of Pennsylvania will test all students for the coronavirus when they return to campus for fall semester, the school said Thursday.
The university announced the testing protocol as part of its plan for bringing many students back to campus for a mix of online, hybrid, and in-person classes.
Penn’s plan features many of the same steps as other schools have announced, including canceling fall break and concluding in-person classes before Thanksgiving to limit travel and spread.
Guidance for the reopening of New Jersey schools will come Friday from the state Department of Education, Murphy said. Officials are also preparing further guidance for indoor dining and casinos, which can restart on July 2. He acknowledged that reopening gyms will be particularly challenging.
“I’ve got enormous sympathy for gym owners,” he said. “I promise you we’ll try to get there as fast as we can.”
The state’s confirmed deaths passed 13,000 on Thursday, and the newly reported probable deaths added 1,854 to that total.
The additional deaths were tallied by state officials who sifted through thousands of death certificates to identify patients who were never tested but whose deaths could likely be attributed to COVID-19 — for example, people in nursing homes with known outbreaks or with sick family members.
The state will report probable deaths weekly, officials said Thursday. They had long said the state’s confirmed death toll was likely an under-count because not everyone who has the virus gets diagnosed.
Questions remained about how the Garden State would enforce its quarantine requirement for travelers coming from states with high rates of infections, a policy announced jointly Wednesday with New York and Connecticut.
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the department was in the process of preparing public awareness materials to inform travelers about the advisory. Anyone coming to New Jersey from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas should be tested for the virus, quarantine for 14 days until they have the results, and remain in quarantine if they test positive, she said.
Asked again for details about how the state might ensure people follow the advisory, Murphy said officials could “use the bully pulpit” and intensify their public awareness campaign if they believe travelers are not voluntarily complying.
“New Jersey is relying on individuals to do the right thing,” Persichilli said.
President Donald Trump is set to travel to his private golf club in Bedminster, Somerset County on Friday. Earlier this week, he held a campaign rally in Arizona, which is experiencing a surge in virus cases. Murphy said Trump was not subject to the advisory because it includes an exception for essential workers.
“He is welcome in New Jersey as an essential worker,” Murphy said. “I think we would all agree the president of the United States is in that category.”
Bucks County officials said they have seen an increase in the number of residents who have contracted the coronavirus after traveling out of state.
Of 28 confirmed cases reported Wednesday, eight were from people who had recently visited Florida, Texas, Arizona, and New Jersey.
“Over the last week, we’ve started to see more and more people getting sick in other states and coming back to Bucks County,” Damsker, the health director, said.
He said he “wasn’t sure” that he would recommend a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone who has traveled to areas with high case counts. But he said that people returning from an out-of-state trip should self-monitor for symptoms, take their temperature regularly, avoid large gatherings, and stay away from older or immunocompromised relatives and friends.