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VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press  

Mainland Regional High School’s Kylee Watson during her game against Lower Cape May Regional, in Linwood, Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)


Local
breaking top story
Inspira workers told no need to test, quarantine after exposure

VINELAND — Coworkers of two Inspira Medical Center Vineland workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were told Wednesday they can return to work without quarantine or testing if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Inspira revealed Tuesday night that two people who worked at the Vineland facility and in other Inspira locations were infected. In a news release, Inspira said all patients and staff exposed to either virus carrier would be quarantined, offered testing and counseling.

However, on Wednesday the hospital changed its mind because of updated information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the New Jersey Department of Health, Inspira spokeswoman Molly Tritt said in an emailed response to questions Friday.

“In regarding to exposure to the asymptomatic positive patient #2, we did not need to quarantine the exposed employees,” Tritt said. “These employees could return to work. They will check their temperatures daily and note the absence of symptoms daily to their managers.”

A spokesperson for the state Health Department provided a copy of “Frequently Asked Questions: Healthcare Personnel and COVID-19,” a joint CDC/NJDOH document, when asked if the department had recommended no quarantine for the Inspira workers.

The document seems to leave it up to the employer to decide specific policies. It defines being a close contact of someone with COVID-19 as “being within 6 feet of a person for longer than 10 minutes.”

Close contacts who do not feel ill should “monitor your health for fever, cough and shortness of breath during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19,” the document states. “You may be asked to stay home or work with a mask during this period. This will depend on the policies and staffing needs of your employer.”

Inspira identified the two infected employees as a radiation oncologist, hospitalized with symptoms, and an asymptomatic surgical services employee who is quarantined at home.

The two, who are married, had recently returned from a European vacation, according to three coworkers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press. Inspira would not comment on the infected employees’ travel history.

School boards meet to pass budgets under state deadlines

No one from the public made any comments and Egg Harbor Township school board members were seated 6 feet apart during their expedited meeting Tuesday, where they approved the introduction of a $151.8 million budget that includes $1.5 million to implement full-day kindergarten.

Inspira has not answered questions about why the symptomatic patient wasn’t quarantined after developing symptoms; and whether the hospital system has changed policies regarding screening all employees for signs of the virus, especially after they return from international travel. Tritt would only say Inspira is “following the guidelines set by the CDC in regard to international travel.”

According to the CDC, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. Symptomatic people are thought to spread the virus more easily, but symptoms are not necessary to spread the virus, according to some studies.

A study by the University of Texas at Austin found more than 10% of cases were spread by infected people who had not yet developed symptoms.

A Wednesday email from Paul Lambrecht, vice president of quality and patient safety at Inspira, told workers about the decision to let them return to work after being told Tuesday night not to report the next day.

“Members of the Surgical Services Team who are presently asymptomatic and who have had an exposure to a COVID-19 patient are permitted to continue to work,” Lambrecht wrote in the email, which one of the workers provided to The Press of Atlantic City. “All exposed personnel must self report to the Surgical Services management their temperature and absence of symptoms each day when they report to work.”

The radiation oncologist was admitted to Inspira Mullica Hill with symptoms, while his wife, a nurse anesthetist, is quarantined at home, the coworkers said.

Coworkers of the nurse anesthetist said they worked with her in the operating room and interacted with her in staff rooms and at lunch. While everyone is masked most of the time in the operating room, they are unmasked when they have close interaction outside the OR, they said.

The employees also said they have direct contact with patients who are members of vulnerable groups such as the ill and elderly, and they feel they should be tested to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus to those vulnerable populations.

Lambrecht said any member of the surgical staff who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as cough or fever, “must cease patient care activities, don a facemask (if not already wearing), and notify their supervisors AND Employee Health immediately and prior to leaving work.”

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

Local
top story
Residents take break from isolation to enjoy weather while keeping distance

NORTHFIELD — After a week of school closings, work cancellations and government recommendations to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, spring arrived.

On Friday, green spaces were littered with families throwing balls and residents getting exercise. The new salutation floating on the breeze was “Stay healthy.”

Atlantic City International Airport reported a record high temperature for the date of 83 degrees. People felt they had to get outside, even if they needed to keep a little more distance from one another while doing it.

Birch Grove Park in Northfield was closed, but that didn’t deter a large gathering of people dressed to the nines for a family photo.

At the Northfield Community School, Janice Dye and Christy Wagner were sitting apart on the playground while their children spent some energy. Their kids are students at the school, and both were there to pick up materials for at-home study.

Dye, an Egg Harbor Township resident and director of curriculum at Northfield, described the day as surreal.

“You would think there would be more kids on the playground,” she said.

Managing work and the education of a 5- and an 8-year-old all week, she said, made getting outside that much better.

“There’s a lot of parent organization necessary to make sure you’re posting (homework) and getting it done with fidelity,” Dye said. “I’m trying to juggle working from home and managing their two classes.”

Wagner has a kindergartner and a 3-year-old.

“We didn’t expect to be spending time here,” she said. “Since it was such a nice day, we decided to play since we’ve been cooped up inside.”

Both moms felt safe with only a few kids present.

The bike path in Northfield saw steady traffic, mostly one or two people at a time out to stretch their legs or ride their bikes.

Everyone mentioned being stuck inside all week and the drive to get out on a pretty day, but also their commitment to keeping the required distance. There were no handshakes, no embraces.

Ned and Nancy Eissler had just dropped off treats at their grandkids’ doors. Matthew Moskovitz was taking a walk to break up his work-from-home day as a social work supervisor.

Jill Zwicker, a nurse, was enjoying a much needed stress-free afternoon. Tina Moyer was riding bikes with her daughter Carly, enjoying a day she said felt awesome. She figured if they stayed together and didn’t interact with anyone they’d be good.

Northfield’s Kathi Morrison felt like keeping a little distance was worth getting to enjoy the day.

“It’s the first I’ve been out,” Morrison said. “I just figured it’s nice out, I’m staying away from people, but it’s still good. I’m tired of being cooped up at home. After a while, you’re tired of hearing it on the news. I’m glad to see people out.”

Nayi Lorick has four kids, three of whom are in college. If there was a silver lining to the closing of universities, it’s that she got to spend her birthday last Saturday with all of her children home. Friday she was putting several of them to work in the yard weeding and preparing for spring.

“I wished my kids would be home for my birthday, and I got my wish,” Lorick said. “It’s been nice. I think our priorities have really changed. I think we’re taking our family time more seriously. (We better appreciate) the freedom we enjoyed to go out before being restricted.”

PHOTOS of people outside amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Crime
breaking featured
First responders work to serve residents while protecting themselves during COVID-19 outbreak

When Tom Sabanofsky gets home from his job as a basic life support supervisor at TriCare Medical Transportation, he throws his clothes directly into the washer — to protect his pregnant wife and other family members from any pathogens he might be carrying.

It’s become an ingrained part of the emergency medical technician’s routine because of COVID-19, a respiratory disease that is quickly spreading across the country and has made its way to South Jersey.

“Pretty much I’m the only healthy person in my household at the moment, and I’m right on the front lines of this thing,” he said Wednesday. “Our biggest concern is spreading any kind of pathogens. … We want to keep our community in Atlantic County as safe as possible for as long as possible.”

As South Jersey residents brace themselves during the spread of the new coronavirus, police officers, firefighters and EMTs are working to provide services to their communities.

While policies and regulations have been put in place to protect them while they’re on the job, often, first responders have no idea what they’re walking into when responding to emergencies. So officials are asking residents to be proactive, patient and use common sense to protect themselves and the emergency personnel serving them.

It all starts with the dispatchers, who are asking callers whether they have a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, a sore throat or runny nose — symptoms that could be from the disease, Wildwood Fire Chief Ernie Troiano III said.

“Anything that could potentially sound like it’s related to the virus, they’re giving us the heads-up and we’re addressing it accordingly,” he said. “The key is that we understand the quickest thing to do is get a mask on a patient to lessen or reduce the chance of them spreading it.”

Some police departments, when responding to calls, have started to request that residents step outside their homes to speak with officers, and others are taking police reports for minor complaints over the phone to comply with social distancing recommendations. However, when an emergency comes in that requires an immediate response, officers are still dispatched to render whatever aid is required.

Sabanofsky and other EMTs are decontaminating the inside and outside of ambulances between calls and using personal protective equipment, such as gowns, eye shields, masks and gloves, while working with any patient displaying respiratory problems, he said.

When responding to a scene that does not require immediate contact, personnel are staying 6 feet away per social distancing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

“If they state that they have a fever, cough, our crew will back off and get in their isolation gear and then go back and go right to the patient,” he said.

Crews are dedicated to providing the highest level of service while taking every precaution necessary, Troiano said, because the officials want to try to keep responders healthy.

“At the end of the day, if we start getting our own personnel affected, that’s going to take us out,” Troiano said. “It’s very important to take all precautions necessary.”

In Atlantic City, Fire Chief Scott Evans is using an approach that includes prevention, education and planning, he said.

“We’ve told our members, if you’re feeling sick, do not come to work,” he said, adding that personnel are cleaning firehouses twice a day and they’re washing their hands constantly. “We’re trying to be proactive the best we can.”

Evans said callers should give dispatchers as much information as they can.

“Communication is the key,” he said. “It’s important for the public to communicate and let us know immediately if they have a fever so we can ensure the appropriate protection by the first responder is being taken to keep them safe.”

Officials are working on contingency plans in case responders start falling ill, Evans and Pleasantville Police Chief Sean Riggin said. And Evans spoke about using mutual aid from neighboring municipalities.

“Frankly there’s not a lot we can do about it, but it’s definitely an impact on first responders’ families,” Riggin said. “What happens when you have to keep social distance from your own family?”

And residents need to be aware why police and other responders might keep their distance, said Pleasantville Emergency Management Coordinator Danny Adcock.

“The police are going to handle themselves differently, because they’re practicing social distancing themselves,” he said. “They aren’t being distant because they’re cold and nasty. They’re just protecting themselves so they don’t bring (anything) home to their families.”

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

State
AP top story
New Jersey likely to boost social distancing orders Saturday

Further social distancing measures are likely over the weekend to combat COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday, the same day the state’s first federally run drive-through testing center reached capacity after being opened only hours.

Murphy spoke Friday during a news conference at Bergen Community College and said two additional people had died from the virus, bringing the state total to 11. There are nearly 900 positive cases in the state, up from more than 700 on Thursday.

The governor said he is working on wording for an executive order to shut down all nonessential businesses and expects to release it Saturday.

“We want to do this right,” Murphy said. “When you talk about closing, you’ll hear it here first, nonessential businesses are going to be shut down. Gatherings of any sort — I’m not sure if we are going to 10 or going to 0 and just eliminate any gatherings.”

He said the state can either leave the definition of essential businesses open-ended like California did, and allow people to decide, or prescribe which businesses qualify as essential, like Pennsylvania did.

“We want to get the balance right,” Murphy said.

The two new deaths reported Friday were of a man in his 30s from Essex County and another man in his 50s from Bergen County.

According to the state Department of Health website, there are three positive cases in Atlantic County, one in Cape May County and one in Cumberland County.

In Atlantic County, a patient at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, has tested positive for COVID-19, hospital officials said Friday.

Additional details about the patient were unavailable, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said, citing patient confidentiality.

Inspira workers told no need to test, quarantine after exposure

VINELAND — Coworkers of two Inspira Medical Center Vineland workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were told Wednesday they can return to work without quarantine or testing if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa said in an email Friday night that one of its table games employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The email from Borgata President and Chief Operating Officer Marcus Glover said the casino is notifying people who may have been in prolonged, close contact with the employee.

The city of Vineland confirmed Friday night the first positive case of COVID-19 in Cumberland County was a 35-year-old city woman who is being treated outside the county.

The Bergen Community College testing center operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened at 8 a.m. and was set to stay open until 4 p.m. for New Jersey residents with symptoms to get tested.

But it reached capacity well before 4 p.m. Six hundred people have been tested, Murphy said, and the center will open Saturday for 350 additional tests.

Bergen County has been a hot spot in the state.

Murphy said another FEMA center in Monmouth County at the PNC Bank Arts Center is set to open at 8 a.m. Monday.

Atlantic City's beloved Gardner's Basin to get $3.6 million renovation

ATLANTIC CITY — Gardner’s Basin, the sometimes neglected, occasionally threatened and enduringly low-key-charming Back Bay collection of restaurants, commercial fishing boats, dolphin tours, outdoor concerts, aquarium and the best breakfast in Atlantic City, is getting a facelift.

Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica says the Motor Vehicle Commission’s inspection station in Mays Landing could be used as a regional drive-thru testing site.

“I’m pushing (that location) because the division of motor vehicles is not operating. There’s your drive-thru line,” Formica said of the long building designed to hold several cars in a line as they go through testing, as well as a large parking lot set up for cars to wait in line and move up slowly.

STOCKTON MOVE-OUTS

As Stockton University moves all instruction online for the remainder of the spring semester, students will be notified when they can return to campus to move out.

Students will receive an email Monday outlining the move-out schedule, which will maintain social distancing protocols, according to a news release from the university. They asked students not to return to campus without an appointment.

With some exceptions, residential students are being asked to move back home for the rest of the semester.

Students were notified Thursday that Stockton will not hold in-person classes at any of its campuses or instructional sites for the remainder of the spring. Spring break ends Tuesday, and classes will resume using alternate instructional models Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Rowan University announced Friday night it will postpone commencement exercises until the summer, although the school plans to hold “a virtual ceremony of sorts” in May.

HOSPITAL CAPACITY

As many as 500 hospital beds at currently inactive hospitals could become available in the next several weeks, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

The Inspira Health Center in Woodbury is expected to be ready in three to four weeks once it is cleaned and disinfected, Persichilli said.

She said the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing a former hospital in Plainfield, Union County, that could be brought online in four to five weeks, with about 200 beds.

REMOTE LEGISLATURE

Murphy signed a bill late Thursday that allows the state Assembly and Senate to meet at locations other than the Statehouse in Trenton, including remotely through the use of technology.

The bill passed the Democrat-led Legislature unanimously.

TELEHEALTH BILLS

The governor also signed into law two bills aimed at promoting remote health services, or telehealth.

One measure authorizes any health care practitioner to provide telehealth services while the COVID-19 emergency is in effect. The bill waives any regulations or requirements impeding such services.

The other bill lets professional and occupational licensing boards expedite out-of-state professionals during a state of emergency or a public health crisis.

Both measures passed unanimously.

WHAT TO DO

State health officials have recommended calling your health care provider if you have symptoms, including fever and shortness of breath. Officials also point people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which recommends people stay home except to get medical care.

On Wednesday, the state announced a new number residents can call with coronavirus-related questions, to augment the existing hotline operated by the New Jersey Poison Control Center.

The new 211 number is operated by the United Ways of New Jersey and provides information and referral services. Residents also can text NJCOVID to 898-211.

Staff Writers Molly Bilinski and Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.

PHOTOS of people outside amid the COVID-19 pandemic