VIRUS UPDATE: PANDEMIC TOLL CLIMBS

red bank ymca blood drive 032620 2With blood supplies running low because of the pandemic’s impact on regular drives, about 50 people made appointments for well-spaced donations at Red Bank’s YMCA Thursday. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

[See UPDATE below]

By JOHN T. WARD

redbankgreen hot topicCOVID-19 continued to ravage New Jersey, with 19 more deaths from the global pandemic reported Thursday.

The number of state residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus soared to 6,876, an increase of 2,492 from Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy said in his daily briefing.

phil murphyGovernor Murphy at Thursday’s briefing at the Trenton War Memorial. (YouTube screengrab. Click to enlarge.)

The caseload growth, which more than tripled the 736 new cases recorded Wednesday, is “partly due to” the opening of mass-testing drive-through sites at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel and a college in Bergen County, Murphy said.

Included in the caseload are 436 new COVID-19 positives detected via tests at those sites, he said.

The death toll associated with the pandemic rose to 81 victims, Murphy said.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said two of the latest deaths occurred in Monmouth County, where the caseload rose by 179, to 501. Specific locations were not disclosed.

[UPDATE: Monmouth County officials reported Thursday night that the county now has 506 positive COVID-19 cases, but offered no immediate detail on cases by town.]

“We continue to see older people and people with underlying conditions to be more severely impacted,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Three of the latest deaths were “associated with” long-term care facilities, she said.

Of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities, 43 have at least one resident who has tested positive. In Woodbridge, St. Joseph’s Senior Home has seen three deaths, with 24 residents and 5 staffers testing positive, Persichilli said.

In the last 24 hours, the percentage of positive tests versus all tests climbed again, to 31.7 percent, Persichilli said. On Wednesday, she said it was 29 percent.

In related news:

• Speaking at the Trenton War Memorial, Murphy said both the PNC and Bergen County Community College drive-thru testing sites will be open Saturday only to symptomatic healthcare providers and first responders,”people who are laying it on the line.” The general public will not be admitted to those sites for the day, he said.

Starting Sunday, the two sites will have new operating hours to boost the number of daily tests to 500 each, up from about 350 per site at present, he said. Details will be posted at the state’s COVID-19 online information portal.

• Murphy sought to quash talk about a possible near-term reopening of schools, which are closed as per his order.

The decision about when to reopen schools “rests with yours truly,” he said.”And we won’t revisit the decision until April 17, at the earliest.”

“We will not do this piecemeal. We will do this together,” he said.

• Earlier in the day, President Trump issued a Major Disaster Declaration for New Jersey. The declaration will provide federal assistance to supplement statewide recovery efforts, including the provision of individual crisis counseling.