BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The number of New Jerseyans seeking new unemployment benefits has spiked, reversing a two-week decline in new weekly claims.

For the week ending Aug. 15, 25,405 residents applied for benefits, according to Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo's report on Thursday, Aug. 20.

During the week of Aug. 2-8, 13,822 residents applied, 16,573 applied July 26 - Aug. 1, and 28,063 applied July 19-25. 

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has distributed $14.1 billion in unemployment benefits and received 1.5 million applications for benefits since COVID-19 forced businesses and organizations throughout the state to curtail operations five months ago.

Many of the new applications are for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federal income replacement benefit for workers who do not qualify for traditional unemployment. PUA provides benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who do not have enough recent earnings to qualify for regular unemployment, as well as those unable to work due to COVID-19.

“We’re moving claims forward for workers whose income has dried up due to COVID or who cannot return to their place of work because of the virus,” said Asaro-Angelo. 

“We are currently paying benefits to as many as 300,000 people who do not qualify for traditional unemployment -- this is an entirely new population of people who are receiving benefits in addition to the record numbers of ‘regular’ claimants who are in need, often for an extended period, during the pandemic.”

Of the total number of unemployment applications received, 1.3 million have met the monetary requirements for eligibility. Of those, 96 percent have received payment.

PREPARING FOR A SECOND WAVE

The state is preparing for a possible next wave in COVID-19 by increasing its personal protective equipment stockpile. The state currently has 4.7 million N95 masks, 1 million surgical masks (with 12 million on order), 1.7 million face shields, 2.1 million hospital gowns (with 1 million on order) and 1.9 million gloves (with 75 million on order). 

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New Jersey has 1,447 ventilators, with another 500 on order. Hospitals reported another 600 ventilators. The state also has 1,115 cases of Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication. 

At today's debriefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said that if a second wave should hit, New Jersey should not be in the same position it was in in April, having to rely on corporate donations and the federal government for PPE. 

Jared Maples of the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security said: “We are preparing for the fall. This  is not for daily usage, it is an emergency stockpile. We will be prepared for the next time around.” 

CONTACT TRACING

While more residents are being reached by contact tracers within 24 to 48 hours, 19 percent are not picking up the call and 52 percent are refusing to cooperate with the contact tracer. 

The state has administered 2.6 million tests to date, 15,000 to 20,000 a day. The positivity rate from tests conducted on Monday was 1.42. Confirmed positives are contacted by a tracer.

“They are calling with life-saving information,” said Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Tracers will ask about anyone whom the person has been in contact with two days prior to testing positive within less than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes. 

The state increased its contact tracer army by 83 this week, bringing the total to 1,612.

MORATORIUM ON SHUTOFFS EXTENDED

Public water, gas and electric utility companies regulated by the state Board of Public Utilities have all agreed to extend their voluntary moratorium preventing shutoffs to both residential and commercial customers during the COVID-19 pandemic until Oct. 15. 

Additionally, the utilities will offer residential and commercial customers a flexible and extended deferred payment agreement of at least 12 months and up to 24 months. No down payments will be required for this assistance. Customers should contact their utility company to make arrangements.

TODAY’S NUMBERS

Today, Aug. 21, New Jersey officials reported 313 new cases of COVID-19, down from the 399 reported on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 188,817. 

The positivity rate declined since Wednesday, from 1.78 to 1.42 percent. The virus transmission rate declined slightly, from 1.06 to 1.04.  

Officials reported 13 news deaths, an increase from the 11 reported on Wednesday. The state death toll is now at 14,112, with another 1,829 deaths probably due to COVID. Hospitals reported another 11 deaths last night that are presumed to be COVID-related, but not confirmed.

Thursday night, hospitals reported 221COVID-related hospitalizations, down from the 471 reported on Tuesday evening. Another 193 patients were under investigation for COVID. Of the total 4,141 total COVID patients, 61 were in ICU and 30 were on ventilators, down from the 99 in critical care and 32 on ventilators on Tuesday night.

On Friday, Essex County health officials reported 20 new COVID cases, bringing the total to date to 19,875. One more COVID-related death was reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,853. 

Montclair health officials reported one additional case Thursday, bringing the total to 488. The number of deaths remains at 54.