Senate Health Committee Chairman Vitale: ‘We Need 1000s of Test Kits’

Govenor Phil Murphy will privately sign a bill, fought for by Senator Joe Vitale for nearly 20 years, expanding the rights of sexual abuse victims. Vitale plans to hold a public ceremony to celebrate this landmark legislation.

The chair of the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee sent up an urgent alarm today for coronavirus test kits in the state of New Jersey.

“We have [the ability to test] 500 people* and 9 million people,”Vitale told InsiderNJ.  “We need thousands of test kits.  We need test kits at every hospital and at every urgent care center. The president said ‘we have beautiful kits.’ We need them and the timing should be yesterday.”

The veteran Democratic senator from Woodbridge said healthcare systems’ representives with whom he has spoken are “very concerned” about lack of adequate infrastructure.

Vitale made his comments a day before a scheduled legislative briefing with the front office. He said he has received several calls from constituents and doctors who have corroborated the scarcity of test kits.

“I dont know where we are on the scale of ten being best and one worst, but we are not at a ten,” Vitale said. “We need to be at a ten. Without being alarmist, things will get a lot worse before they get better.  The administration is working hard.  I want to be supportive of the commissioner. The governor is lucky to have her there.”

Vitale said President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban came too late, after the influx of  thousands of people from infected areas. He said the president never relies on experts but on flatterers, and this too gives him a sense of grave concern.

Other New Jersey lawmakers on the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee also acknowledged time lags for people seeking coronavirus testing, discussed areas to improve, noted the uncharted territory society faces without a vaccine for the pandemic, but also expressed faith in New Jersey’s core health delivery system.

“I just left my doctor’s office, it’s a good thing you called,” said veteran state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28). “He said there’s a problem because people can’t get tested. They’re running around in circles. My doctor had a patient with all the symptoms, but he can’t get him tested. So shat’s happenng is people are going into emergency rooms, and getting turned away. The doctor said he had a patient who went to three different hospitals, where he’s actually potentially contaminating three different areas.”

Rice said he wants Vitale to hold a hearing.

“We have to take matters into our own hands,” said the Newark-based senator.

Veteran Senator Bob Singer (R-30) told InsiderNJ that we have allowed public healthcare to slip in this state.

“We have to look at funding for more epidemiologists,” the Republican lawmaker told InsiderNJ. “We have regionalized them so that one has three counties but we have to look at funding of public health in general in the state and also for counties to have individual epidemiologists.

“We have not put enough money into public health,” Singer said.

The pandemic – at the very least – presents an opportunity for the state to implement best practices, he said.

In Italy, 827 people have died from the coronavirus. The main problem is the high percentage of people requiring intensive care. If it spreads too quickly as in northern Italy people may die for lack of resources. Some hospitals are collapsing already.

Yesterday, Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) told InsiderNJ that the state needs to reexamine its medical facilities’ capacities, especially in the rural parts of the state.

Singer – who serves two counties (Monmouth and Ocean) that are home to nine hospitals – cautioned about comparing New Jersey and Italy.

“We have a far better system and we are far more on top of things than they are in Italy,” Singer said. “Our state and our country are doing the right things and we can do better. We’ve had 30 of country getting flu shots. I think it’s a matter of doing the things we know how to do better, like limiting exposure in nursing homes and in areas where people are more vulnerable.  Every year we should be pro active during flu season. During flu season, access to assisted living facilities and nursing homes should be limited.”

Singer said he does not believe we are to the point where we need to close schools.

“You have that when you get a cluster,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is spread it, but we’re not at that point now. The state must be evaluated town by town.”

Prompted by “parent response,” Little Silver closed its schools today.

Senator Richard Codey (D-27), former acting governor of New Jersey, conceded that “everybody is flying by the seat of their pants right now.”

“It’s not an easy game to play, but the more precautions you take, the better you are,” Codey said. “We are still in the feeling out phase.

Like Vitale and Rice, he said, “I’ve spoken to people in our health field and yes, they are frustrated by the time it’s taking for people to get tested.”

*Editor’s Note: A test kit has the capacity to test 250 people. The state as of this writing has two test kits.

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