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More drive-through testing facilities opening in New Jersey

TRENTON — More drive-thru testing facilities opened Monday in New Jersey, as Gov. Phil Murphy announced more than 900 additional cases in the state, bringing the total number to nearly 3,000. Seven more people have died, Murphy said, raising the total in the state to 27.

Five of the victims were men and two were women, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said, and ranged in age from 57 to 91. Two had preexisting health conditions.

The state’s first drive-thru center opened Friday at Bergen Community College in Paramus and has reached capacity quickly on each day since. New drive-thru testing centers opened Monday at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus and at Kean University in Union.

On its first day Monday, the Holmdel site also had to stop accepting visitors soon after opening.

The Hudson location is performing tests by appointment only for people who are exhibiting symptoms, by calling 201-388-1097.

POP-UP HOSPITALS APPROVED

Murphy said he received support from President Donald Trump on Monday to work with FEMA regional administrators to identify four sites for pop-up hospitals, similar to what is occurring in other states. He didn’t disclose potential locations.

Murphy also issued an executive Monday suspending all elective surgeries as well as invasive medical and dental procedures after 5 p.m. on Friday.

VENTILATOR SHORTAGE

Persichilli said the state has requested ventilators from the federal government to make up a shortage. She said there should ideally be a ventilator for every critical care bed and that the state has about 2,000 critical care beds but only about 1,700 ventilators.

The number of beds is expected to rise with the addition of beds in locations such as hotels.

INMATES RELEASED

New Jersey’s Supreme Court has ordered that some county jail inmates be released in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner signed an order late Sunday that allows inmates serving in county jails to be released this week. Prosecutors can file objections to the release of specific inmates, and have a judge hold a hearing.

Rabner’s order freeing inmates came after the state public defender’s office petitioned the state Supreme Court, arguing that keeping prisoners detained posed a public health threat. Officials in Hudson County said Sunday two inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting a modified lockdown of the facility housing them.

The Supreme Court order allows inmates serving sentences of less than a year in county jails on municipal court convictions or as part of probationary sentences to be released this week. They will resume their sentences when the health crisis concludes, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

Prosecutors can file objections to the release of specific inmates, and those who are released will have to abide by any restrictions as part of their probation. The order doesn’t apply to inmates serving in state prison on more serious crimes.

“I take no pleasure in temporarily releasing or suspending county jail sentences, but this is the most significant public health crisis we’ve faced in our state’s history, and it’s forcing us to take actions that we wouldn’t consider during normal times” Grewal said.

Inmates who have already tested positive for COVID-19 won’t be released until a plan for isolation or mandatory self-quarantine is approved.


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South Jersey nursing homes keeping visitors away from seniors

Barbara Makoski would have loved to celebrate her mother’s 94th birthday in person last Tuesday, but Patricia Colgan lives at Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway Township and can’t have visitors.

“The nurse set it up so that me, my brother and my sister were able to talk to her through FaceTime,” said Makoski, who added her mother also received cards and flowers from her family.

Makoski usually travels from Egg Harbor Township to visit her mother three times a week.

Now, the communication is about the same number of days a week, but through video chat.

“The staff has been really accommodating,” said Makoski, 71, who, like her mother, is at high risk for COVID-19 because of her age. “These are unprecedented times.”

Before the general public was told to maintain social distance last week, most nursing homes and assisted-living facilities started to limit exposure to their residents on March 12.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending visitors no longer be permitted to enter long-term care facilities.

Seashore Gardens is in close contact with the CDC and other federal and state agencies, said Alysia Price, the executive director.

“Our mission is enriching elder lives, and we’re continuing to focus on our residents’ happiness and well-being. We are keeping them busy with activities, such as a staff skit for (the Jewish holiday) Purim, indoor gardening activities and more,” Price said.

Amber Hennessey keeps herself nimble when it comes to protecting residents from the new coronavirus at the Oceana Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Cape May Court House.

On March 11, Hennessey, executive director at Oceana, allowed family members and visitors to see residents. One day later, she asked them not to visit unless absolutely necessary.

“We are all in this together,” Hennessey said. “We will do everything we are supposed to do to keep staff and residents as safe as possible.”

In place of in-person visits, loved ones are keeping in touch with residents by communicating via video chat, Hennessey said.

Both staff and residents are constantly being updated with what they need know to prevent themselves from contracting the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

At Autumn Lake Healthcare at Overview Nursing Home in Ocean View, Dennis Township, all visitors, family, vendors and external case managers were being restricted as of the second week of the month, said Eli Finkelstein, the administrator.

The agency staff and any hospice aides who need to come on the premises are being screened to see whether they have a fever, he said.

“The families have been very, very respectful,” said Finkelstein, who added half of the residents have underlying health conditions. “Everyone is understanding toward this.”

Meadowview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Northfield, which is owned and operated by Atlantic County, started prohibiting visitors on March 12 and will continue until further notice, said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.

Brookdale Senior Living has 13 communities in New Jersey, including one in Cape May Court House.

Brookdale Cape May is acting with an abundance of caution, reinforcing policies and procedures for contagious illnesses such as the flu with staff, said Heather Hunter, Brookdale’s spokeswoman.

“These include reminders about flu vaccines, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, staying home when sick and taking flu antivirals as prescribed,” Hunter said.

Genesis Healthcare offers assisted and senior living and long-term care in nearly 400 centers across the country, including this state with the Southern Ocean Center in Manahawkin and the Millville Center in Millville and for Genesis-affiliated centers in Cape May County.

Since the outbreak began in China, Genesis’ senior management team, clinical leadership and chief medical officer have been meeting regularly to address concerns about COVID-19, said Lori Mayer, spokeswoman for the South Jersey Genesis-affiliated centers.

“We are currently receiving regular updates on the latest admission screening guidelines and infection controls protocols,” Mayer said. “Everything we are doing is in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Public Health.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City Casino ordered to close amid COVID-19 concerns

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Isolation amid COVID-19 pandemic poses challenges to substance abuse recovery

Avoiding social interaction may be a source of sadness and frustration to most people, but to those who are fighting substance abuse it can threaten recovery, as dozens of weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are canceled due to COVID-19.

“Substance abuse disconnects people from everything important in their lives — relationships, jobs, finances, health,” said David Dorschu, chief executive officer of Recovery Centers of America at Lighthouse in Mays Landing. “In treatment the goal … is to reconnect you to all of those things.”

But for folks who have finished a treatment program and need support abstaining from alcohol or illegal drugs, physical access to one of the main forms of reconnection is out of reach, Dorschu said. That’s because churches and other public meeting spaces used by the groups have closed for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, people actively using or new to recovery can’t afford to take risks. They may be at more risk physically from contracting COVID-19, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “People with opioid-use disorder and methamphetamine-use disorder may also be vulnerable due to those drugs’ effects on respiratory and pulmonary health.”

There are options for people who can’t find a physical meeting, Dorschu said, involving the telephone and other technologies to keep in touch.

“They need to make a concerted effort to reach out on a daily basis to their sponsor, who is a recovery coach, a kind of mentor helping them walk through the 12 steps (of recovery in AA and NA),” Dorschu said.

There are also internet-based meetings, which can be found at intherooms.com. While you can’t get hugs and handshakes there, it is a way to keep on a meeting schedule, Dorschu said. He added that people who have tried them have told him the internet meetings are helpful.

Hope One Coordinator Scott Gras, himself in long-term recovery from a heroin addiction, runs Atlantic County’s outreach van to get people into treatment. He said many of the people Hope One works with live on the streets. Normally he and others are out in the van, moving around to where people are who need help. Now they are in an office, waiting for phone calls.

“It’s a major crisis. A lot of people will suffer,” Gras said. “All of our outreach is canceled. The only way people can contact us is on the phone at 609-909-7200 for direct help.”

While it is a more difficult situation, he said Hope One is still able to help.

“Yesterday we sent nine people to treatment,” Gras recently said.

Some meetings have continued in outside locations, but people have to know about them through word-of-mouth. Participants are nervous about publicizing them, for fear the police will not allow them to continue, organizers said.

Like most active treatment-program operators, Lighthouse is continuing its programs, Dorschu said, with adjustments in how physically close people are allowed to get and increased cleaning of facilities.

The state Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services supports a helpline at 866-202-4357, run by the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, that provides support and referrals for mental health issues. It is now also providing trained specialists to help people cope with anxiety caused by COVID-19, the state said Monday.


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Two-month N.J. casino shutdown could lead to a $1.1 billion loss in economic activity

ATLANTIC CITY — A two-month shutdown of the state’s casino industry will lead to $1.1 billion in lost economic activity, according to a report from the American Gaming Association.

That figure encompasses all direct and indirect economic activity associated with the casino industry, including gaming revenue, food and beverage and hotel, but also the impact on suppliers, vendors and workers.

“The impact on our employees, their families and communities is staggering, and the implications extend far beyond the casino floor,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA.

Last Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the closure of the Atlantic City’s nine casinos, as New Jersey continues to grapple with how best to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus.

Murphy said the casinos will stay closed “until such time as it is deemed safe for their reopening,” but online gaming will continue to operate.

The closures directly affect an estimated 32,987 casino employees in the state, according to the gaming association report. As of March 1, the state Division of Gaming Enforcement reported 26,450 Atlantic City casino employees.

The gaming industry had been riding a hot streak for almost two years, dating back to the dual openings of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort in June 2018. As of February, the industry had reported 21-consecutive months of year-over-year gaming revenue increases.

The city’s nine casinos reported more than $3.29 billion in total gaming revenue last year.

“This is a huge challenge for the industry,” said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University. “But if this is something that’s necessary for the well-being of all of us in our community ... it’s just one of those situations that is really unfortunate, but there is no other alternative.”

The indefinite closing of the casinos will have ripple effects throughout the regional economy, according to the gaming association’s findings. The AGA said that nearly half of the industry’s jobs are not gambling-related. Supporting businesses, such as wholesale suppliers, restaurants, vendors and retail, would also be impacted.

A two-month shutdown of the U.S. gaming industry would result in nearly $43.5 billion in lost economic activity, according to the AGA.

“Gaming is an economic engine, employing millions of local residents, generating community investment through vital tax revenue and supporting small businesses in communities all across the country,” said Miller, head of the industry trade group.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos have extended health benefits and committed to various temporary compensation offerings for employees during the shutdown.

“The federal government must act swiftly and comprehensively to get America’s hospitality employees, and the small businesses that support them, back to work,” Miller said. “Gaming employees, their families and communities are bearing the brunt of this economic standstill and will continue to suffer if Congress and the administration don’t take immediate action.”

UPDATED: Restaurants closed and other event, closing information due to COVID-19