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Governor Murphy said today at a health summit in Ewing that while there was a generally low risk of coronavirus infections for New Jersey residents, the administration in Trenton was working closely with their federal counterparts to ensure that measures were being taken to safeguard the health and well being of New Jerseyans.
Joined by New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, she said that, “We are working closely with the CDC and our public health and healthcare partners to ensure our preparedness levels for this novel virus remain high.”
Governor Murphy directed residents to the website, www.nj.gov/health, and said that a call center had been set up with the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, reached at any time at 800-222-1222
“We ask any residents with questions or concerns make those their first stops,” Murphy said. The call center at the time of the conference had already answered over 850 callers and officials are fluent in a variety of languages to best accommodate residents.
With respect to the federal government, whose coronavirus operations are being overseen by Vice President Mike Pence, Murphy described the work between Washington and Trenton as “constructive, open engagement” and that Pence complimented New Jersey’s proactive stance. Murphy was quick to dismiss any questions that politics was a factor in the operations between the state and federal level. “This is not partisan, this is not an opportunity to take shots, this is about public health… I would say the Vice President has been extremely professional as has secretary and his other team members with whom we’ve dealt.”
The overriding theme of the meeting was preparedness – better safe than sorry. The governor said more than once that while the risk was, in fact, low to residents, “common sense” steps should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Namely, washing hands frequently with soap and water, to stay home from work or school if feeling sick.
“Most New Jersey residents are at low risk for novel coronavirus,” said Persichilli. “If individuals are having symptoms, the illness is much more likely to be caused by common respiratory viruses such as flu or the common cold.”
The officials said that residents who are healthy should not go about wearing masks or respirators, instead leaving that stock to healthcare professionals and for those who are already infected, to try to prevent further transmission. It is believed that the coronavirus is transmitted from human to human contact and that most transmissions would occur between individuals six feet or less from one another.
As of the time of the conference, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Jersey. One person is thought to possibly be a carrier, not confirmed, but the officials declined to provide further specific information about the individual.
At 1:34 p.m., a statement was released saying, “Test results have come back negative for the person in New Jersey who was under investigation for novel coronavirus. There are no other persons in New Jersey who are currently approved and awaiting testing for the virus that causes COVID-19.”
All direct flights from mainland China to Newark International Airport have been suspended. Port Authority Chief Security Officer John Bilich said, “The Port Authority will continue to provide all necessary support for the screening being carried out by the CDC and CBP of passengers at our airports who may have been exposed to coronavirus and ensuing referrals for quarantine in conjunction with state and city health authorities. We encourage all travelers, not just at the region’s airports but those utilizing all Port Authority facilities, to make themselves aware of the health and safety protocols established by CDC.”
“Preparing for the threat from the COVID-19 coronavirus will take heightened vigilance and the coordination of all people, ranging from health and education officials to students and their parents,” said New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet. “We can’t emphasize enough how the safety of the nearly 1.4 million children in our schools depends on all stakeholders proactively engaging in effective communication, collaboration and preparation.” Repollet also emphasized the need to be conscious of children and bullying during tense times, and stand firm against discrimination, particularly with respect to Asians who might be targeted since the coronavirus is believed to have originated in China.
As far as keeping children safe and school closures, Repollet said that the districts would take “guidance from the Commissioner of Health and the CDC,” further saying that many districts have protocols in place. In the event of closures, Repollet believed that web-based communication would play an important role between families and their districts, and that some schools could even offer instruction online in the event of prolonged closures.
The Governor’s Office said that the administration “continues to work closely with the CDC and local health partners to monitor the situation and will provide updates accordingly.” On Monday, February 3, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 102 which established a “Coronavirus Task Force” whose purpose is to “coordinate all State efforts to appropriately prepare for and respond to the public health hazard of COVID-19.” The task force meets weekly and incorporates representatives of “key agencies” including the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Office of Emergency Management, Department of Education, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Port Authority, and NJ TRANSIT.