VIRUS UPDATE: COVID-19 DEATH TOLL RISES

fair haven post office

The Fair Haven post office now has a plastic barrier to minimize contact between customers and employees. (Reader photo. Click to enlarge.)

[See UPDATE below]

By JOHN T. WARD

Seven more New Jersey deaths were recorded as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to grow, state officials said Monday.

Two days after issuing an unprecdented executive order aimed at slowing the spread of the pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy said he was also barring all  elective surgeries and invasive procedures, both medical and dental.

The state Attorney General also announced new actions to free some county jail inmates and prosecute alleged violators of Murphy’s virus-prompted orders.

The known number of statewide COVID-19 patients rose by 935 from Sunday to Monday, to 2,844, as the death toll grew by 7, to 27, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a press conference with Murphy.

Monmouth County’s tally of virus-infected patients rose to 238, from 158 Sunday. No additional deaths within the county were reported. [UPDATE: Separately, Monmouth County officials reported 207 confirmed positive cases. The disparity with the state figure was not immediately explained.]

According to Persichilli, the latest to die ranged in age from 57 to 91, including two with pre-existing conditions and one “associated with” a long-term care facility.

On Monday, the state opened a drive-thru test center at PNC Arts Center in Holmdel Monday to expand testing of residents with virus symptoms.

It will be open daily from 8 a.m. “until it reaches capacity,” as it quickly did Monday, Murphy said.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced an unprecedented effort to temporarily free from county jails inmates serving sentences of less than one year.

Under an order signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner late Sunday, prosecutors can challenge the release of specific individuals where they contend there exist significant risks to the person being released or to public safety, according an an announcement by the ACLU of New Jersey, which helped negotiate the deal.

The order  “does not commute people’s sentences, but instead orders their temporary release during the COVID-19 public health crisis,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The order takes extraordinary steps to prevent unnecessary incarceration or superfluous interactions with the criminal justice system altogether during this time, such as suspending most outstanding warrants and preventing in-person reporting to probation officers.”

Gurbir also signaled a crackdown on those who engage in price-gouging or hate crimes, as well as those who violate Murphy’s executive order that all residents “stay at home” and practice social-distancing.

He said potential penalties range from disorderly-persons summonses to “indictable charges.”

“There is a special place in hell” for those who engage in racist behavior and price-gouging, Murphy said.

The time for warnings is over,” Gurbir said. “The time for compliance is now. Consider this as your final warning.” He said the enforcement of the order would including individuals who throw parties.