By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Gov. Phil Murphy warned Friday that although New Jersey was seeing some encouraging signs that the COVID-19 curve was starting to flatten, he warned residents to continue social distancing, particularly with a holiday weekend coming up.

The governor announced 3,627 new positive cases of the virus, and 233 additional deaths, at his daily briefing. The state totals are now 54,588 cases and 1,932 deaths.

“This cannot be a weekend to think we can let our foot off the gas. We’re not even close,” Murphy said.

As of 9 a.m. on Friday, Montclair had 220 cases, including 24 reported deaths, according to information released by the Montclair Health Department. The reported number of cases was lower than the number reported by Essex County. "The lower number of positive cases is attributed to the Health Department findings that some have incorrect addresses, or were in long-term facilities in another town and determined to be out of jurisdiction," the township said.

Overall, Essex County has reported 6,549 cases and 351 deaths.

Montclair has the fifth-highest number of reported deaths in Essex County, behind Newark, East Orange, Irvington and West Orange.

The state also disclosed Friday that it had received 15 rapid testing systems from the federal government. The systems can test specimens for COVID-19 in five to 13 minutes, a development that officials say will help meet the massive demand for testing in New Jersey.

Essex County announced on Friday that screenings will continue in the county’s Weequahic Park testing site, with three dates - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, April 13, 15, and 17 - being scheduled for next week. The testing center is open only to county residents who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, and who have made an appointment in advance.

social distancing
IMAGE COURTESY ESSEX COUNTY The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, as reported by Essex County on April 10. The numbers may differ from numbers submitted by state and local authorities.
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Residents may make an appointment by registering online at Essex County’s COVID-19 information site, EssexCOVID.org. However, as of Friday, all appointment slots were filled.

The top five counties for COVID-19 cases are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, and Middlesex, which recently surpassed Passaic by a small margin.

Friday marks the first day that Murphy’s executive order requiring employees and customers to wear masks inside of businesses, and for stores to allow no more than 50 percent of their customer capacity inside at a time, is in effect.

The state has also ordered all non-essential construction to stop by 8 p.m. tonight.

At his briefing, Murphy took note of the holiday weekend; today is both Good Friday and the third day of Passover, and Easter is Sunday.

Easter is traditionally a time when families gather for worship services, Easter egg hunts with children, and special dinners, Murphy said, acknowledging that not being able to do so this year was difficult.

“We have to leave the gathering to FaceTime, to Zoom, or to simple phone calls, text messages and emails to family and friends,” he said.

The governor added that while there were encouraging signs, New Jersey was nowhere near the end of the outbreak.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Of the 233 new deaths announced statewide Friday, 58 percent were male and 42 percent were female, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Forty-five percent were 80 years of age or older; of the remaining age groups, less than 1 percent was under the age of 30; 4 percent were between the ages of 30 and 49; 17 percent were between the ages of 50 and 64; and 33 percent were between the ages of 65 and 79.

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, 7,570 people were hospitalized. Of that number, 1,679 were in critical care, with 1,663 of them being on ventilators. Murphy added that 682 have also been discharged from the hospital, which he said was an encouraging number.

Demographically, 64 percent of the new deaths identified as white; 20 percent as black or African American; 6 percent as Asian, and 1 percent Pacific Islander.

An estimated 17 percent of the deaths identified as Hispanic or Latino heritage, and Murphy said that information had only just become available.

Murphy reiterated that the mortality rate among black and African American COVID-19 patients was disproportionately high compared to other demographics.

Persichilli said that 990 of the new cases involve people who are residents of long-term care facilities.

Two of New Jersey’s three veterans homes, in Menlo Park and Paramus, have identified COVID-19 cases in residents and staff.

NEW JERSEY TO RELEASE SOME INMATES TO BATTLE VIRUS

Murphy signed an executive order Friday allowing the Department of Corrections to recommend certain inmates for early release, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

“A virus this virulent can spread rapidly in a densely populated prison setting, Murphy said.”

Seven other states, including California and Illinois, have already taken similar steps, as has the federal prison system, Murphy said.

Low-risk inmates who meet certain criteria may be eligible for release to home confinement or parole, said Marcus Hicks, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Those inmates must be 60 years of age or older, have health conditions that place them at high risk for contracting COVID-19, are scheduled to complete their prison sentences within the next three months, or are eligible for parole.

Inmates who have been convicted of serious offenses, including murder and sexual assault, are not eligible.

Hicks said that the department has been diligent in making sure that all facilities and vehicles are cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis. Everyone who enters a facility must receive a temperature check and health screening.