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State orders long-term care centers to do repeat COVID-19 testing

Test, and test again.

That is the message to long-term care facilities after a May 12 executive order from state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, requiring them to test all residents and staff for the novel coronavirus by May 26.

And then retest within 3-7 days, to catch any new infections, the order said.

The idea is to separate all COVID-positive staff members and residents from those who remain negative, to stop the spread.

On Monday, the White House strongly recommended to governors that all residents and staff at such facilities be tested for the coronavirus in the next two weeks.

Further testing would follow, in accordance with CDC guidelines, Persichilli said at Gov. Phil Murphy’s Wednesday COVID-19 news conference. She also said all staff must be tested, even those whose jobs are administrative or not direct patient care jobs.

“Staff means medical and nonmedical,” Persichilli said.

The order grew out of results of testing done at 16 South Jersey long-term care facilities, Persichilli said.

The state and Cooper Health System tested 4,600 residents and staff members in the facilities, and found 24.4% of residents and 9.75% of staff were positive. Most were asymptomatic, with no sign of illness. But by interacting with others, they could spread the virus without realizing it.

It was unclear if the testing must be in addition to the state testing program that Persichilli announced last week.

The 16 South Jersey facilities were the first phase. In the second phase, which is ongoing, those facilities with fewer than five cases are being tested. Persichilli has said Phase 2 includes 76 facilities with 10,324 beds.

She had said during Phase 3, those in facilities with six to 25 cases will be tested, and in Phase 4, those in all other facilities will be tested.

The Department of Health did not respond to requests for clarification on Wednesday.

By May 19, all long-term care facilities such as licensed nursing homes, assisted living facilities, dementia care homes, residential health care facilities and comprehensive personal care homes must also update their outbreak plans. They have to now include a testing policy, plans for cohorting residents who test positive, and policies for time off and returning to work for staff who test positive, the order said.

It also requires retesting of those who test negative within 3-7 days, in order to detect those with newly developed infection, and further retesting in according with CDC guidance.

There are 90,000 residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide, according to the health department. Almost 26,000 positive cases have been reported from the facilities and about half of the state’s 9,700 COVID-19 deaths have been associated with long-term care.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is investigating possible criminal or negligent acts at nursing homes and has asked for the public’s help collecting information. He has asked members of the public to report their experiences at covid19.nj.gov/LTC — particularly behaviors by the facilities that “put profits over patients.”

The state has also said it is placing National Guard troops in some facilities, and has hired Manatt, a national business consulting firm, to help it better protect residents and staff in long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future.


Local
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WATCH NOW: Atlantic City, New Jersey need federal dollars now, Murphy says

The economic uncertainty caused by the response to the new coronavirus will require a massive infusion of federal dollars to stabilize New Jersey’s — and by extension Atlantic City’s — finances, the governor said.

“We need the federal government to come in with a very big number at the state level, and that will allow us to do everything we need to do with Atlantic City,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday during an exclusive interview with The Press of Atlantic City. “And, I promise you, (if) we get that money, we will be there morning, noon and night as an incredibly loyal, constructive partner for Atlantic City.”

Atlantic City’s municipal budget relies heavily on both casino property taxes — the amount is tied to the industry’s annual gaming revenue — and state aid. In 2019, the combination of state aid and the casino’s collective payment in lieu of taxes accounted for nearly 43% of revenue in Atlantic City’s $208 million operating budget.

The city remains under state control until 2021 as a result of the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act of 2016. With the city’s nine casinos being closed since mid-March and the state unable to provide financial aid, local officials have expressed concern about what those budget holes will do.

“To see the state acknowledge that they’re in a position where budgeted expenses on their end do not have matching revenues, both in real time because of the slowdown in fees and tax collection, but also based on projections with the impact of COVID-19, at some point that does ripple over to the different accounts that deal with transitional aid that is very important for our budget picture,” 6th Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz said in April.

The monthly revenue report released Wednesday by the state Department of the Treasury showed that April’s revenue collections were down nearly 60%, or roughly $3.5 billion, compared to last year and year-to-date is down 8.1% because of the global pandemic.

Murphy said the amount of money the state needs from the federal government could be upward of $20 billion.

“We’re basically out of money as a state,” the governor said Wednesday. “This has had a devastating impact. Expenses are going up by the minute (while) revenues have fallen off a cliff. ... No state has the money to do what we need to do right now. It’s the federal government, and only the federal government.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem, and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Burlington and Camden, introduced two bills designed to help Atlantic City’s casinos survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The bills would give casinos temporary relief from a variety of taxes and fees, and offer state loans to cover their May and August payments in lieu of property taxes to Atlantic City.

Murphy said Wednesday he was not familiar with the introduced bills, but his “answer would be the same whether I read them or not.”

“I would love to help the casinos,” he said. “The will is there. The casinos in Atlantic City are a crown jewel of our state, huge economic driver. I want nothing more than to help them in their hour of need and to do everything I can to work with them to get them reopened, responsibly, at the right point.”

The governor said that when Atlantic City’s casinos do reopen, there would more than likely be capacity restrictions in place. He went on to say that while the physical footprint of most of Atlantic City’s casinos was large enough to adhere to some measure of social distancing, the windowless, indoor spaces were not ideal facilities to reopen at this time.

“I would love nothing more than to get the casinos back open,” he said, “but we’re not remotely there yet.”


Education
Cedar Creek senior Paige Goolden remembered for optimism, grit and compassion

MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Paige Goolden had her future planned, her mom Renee said.

The 18-year-old senior would go to Atlantic Cape Community College in the fall after graduating from Cedar Creek High School this spring, and then transfer for her degree.

She wanted to be a mortician or a medical examiner, to help people at their most vulnerable.

Her family said that’s just who she was.

“There are not enough words to describe the kind of person and human being she was. She left an imprint — that’s the right word — on anyone she ever met,” Renee said Tuesday, seated on her deck, her voice quivering.

Paige died unexpectedly last week of cardiac arrest. Renee was speaking via Zoom video conference call due to social distancing restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, which are also preventing the family from holding funeral services for their daughter.

On Tuesday, Atlantic County officials said that an 18-year-old woman from Mullica Township died of complications due to COVID-19, one of the county’s 86 COVID-related deaths.

For a mother overcome with grief, Renee said it doesn’t matter if the county is talking about her daughter or not. She said Paige was tested for the disease, but did not confirm if her daughter had tested positive.

“I’ve resigned myself in the fact that she’s gone. It doesn’t matter if it was or it wasn’t, and I don’t think we’ll ever have that answer,” Renee said, adding that her daughter’s death was “completely sudden.”

“I just can’t wrap my head on anything I could have done differently,” she said. “It was a normal day. No signs, no distress. We had a wonderful dinner.”

Paige’s sudden passing was announced to faculty and students at Cedar Creek in an electronic message from school officials on May 7.

Classmates and staff at the high school immediately began sharing fond memories and photos on social media of the teen. They also began a collection of money for the Goolden family, for funeral expenses and a celebration of life at a later date.

“On May 6th, the world lost a beautiful soul and Heaven gained an angel. Paige Goolden, was a young woman of grit, love, and determination. There are no words to express how much Paige meant to all of us and how much she will be missed,” reads the fundraiser description facilitated by Cedar Creek guidance counselor Paula Londono.

The fundraiser, which originally had a goal of $20,000, but was later bumped to $30,000, has raised $22,000 as of Wednesday.

Renee said that the outpouring of support for their family has been incredible — her freezer is nearly full with meals and her home is filled with flowers. She hopes to use any additional money raised on the GoFundMe to further Paige’s legacy of giving to others.

“During her life, she brought positivity to us and now it’s on us to continue that legacy and that positivity, and keep bringing her light to all the other people around us,” family friend Erika Lower of Mullica Township said.

Paige, who turned 18 on April 22 — the celebratory day she shared with identical twin sister, Hannah — was technically the middle child of her parents, Renee and Geoffrey Goolden. Her older sister, Megan Brown, brother-in-law and nieces live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Renee laughed retelling how Hannah was supposed to be born first, but during delivery, Paige put her sister in a full-nelson and flipped to make her entrance just one minute before Hannah.

Paige and Hannah had an incalculable bond, their mother said, and what they called “twin-stincts.” She said they could feel each other’s pain.

Paige was drawn to the water and loved her job as a lifeguard at Atsion Lake in the summer. She also worked at Claire’s Boutique in the Hamilton Mall, where she liked helping customers and piercing children’s ears.

At school, Paige was involved year long in various activities and part of Cedar Creek’s crew team and captain of the swim team. She also served as the stage manager for the drama club, most recently for the school’s production of “Elf the Musical.”

Paige loved animals, riding horses since she was 6, and caring for the many pets on the family’s farm. Longtime family friend Judy Adirzone of Williamstown recalled at one point she felt that the Gooldens would get a new pet every week.

Renee, holding one of many journals created by Paige, read aloud a quote she thought would aptly describe how Paige lived her life: “Be a voice, not an echo.”

“She led and people followed,” Renee said.

Paige was also optimistic.

“She always found the silver lining,” Renee said.

When schools announced they were closing in mid-March due to COVID-19, Renee said Paige looked on the bright side.

“It sucked. Nobody’s happy with it. They felt a little robbed, but they knew it was going to come around. They were making history to be honest with you,” she said.

That optimism applied to Paige’s Type I diabetes, too, which she was diagnosed with at age 5.

“She hated it, but she found ways to not let it define who she was,” Renee said.

Adirzone described Paige as more than just brave and strong, but compassionate.

“She was all of that and more,” she said.

In addition to immediate family, Paige is survived by her grandmothers Dorothy Albertson of Winslow Township and Patricia Goolden of Hannawa Falls, N.Y., many aunts, uncles, cousins, and longtime boyfriend and friend LA Rodriquez, as well as many friends.

To donate to the fundraiser, visit gofundme.com/f/paige-goolden-memorial-fund.

Photos of Mullica Township's Paige Goolden