New Jersey officials hopeful outbreak leveling off, but urge distance as cases top 81,000

TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- As New Jersey health officials are "cautiously optimistic" that the COVID-19 outbreak is leveling off, Gov. Phil Murphy provided additional updates on Saturday.

Murphy reported 3,026 new confirmed case of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 81,420.

He said 231 more residents lost their lives to COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 4,070.

He was joined in Trenton by Health Commission Judy Persichilli.

On Friday, New Jersey's health commissioner said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the COVID-19 outbreak is leveling off.

Persichilli expects the rest of April and early May to be very busy for hospitals, but that models indicate a dip in the curve could come after that, she said.

"We're cautiously optimistic, hopefully optimistic that we're leveling off," Persichilli said.

The northern part of the state, which has been very hard hit, has likely seen its peak, but the central and southern parts of the state have yet to.

Despite the optimism, Murphy said, it's no time to relent on social distancing.

The death toll, while still going up, is a lagging indicator, said Dr. Christina Tan, the state epidemiologist.

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New Jersey officials hopeful outbreak is leveling off, but still urge distance.



A look at other developments in New Jersey:

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ECONOMIC REOPENING

Murphy described a Thursday call with the White House focused on restarting the economy as "good" and "decent." He wants to see the state's curve come down and more testing be put in place before businesses and schools reopen, he said.

RELATED: Gov. Murphy: 'I don't see normal gathering in foreseeable future'

He did not give a timeline for when the stay-at-home order would lift, and he urged people to continue keeping their distance.

"This is going in the right direction," he said. "Let's not let our guards down, or all bets are off."

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NURSING HOMES

Nursing homes continue to face an onslaught from the virus.

Nearly every nursing home in the state has at least one case, with 1,530 of the deaths from COVID-19 coming from residents at these facilities, Persichilli said.

READ MORE: Tip leads police to 17 bodies at a New Jersey nursing home

The development came a day after news came out about the discovery of 18 bodies stored in a "makeshift morgue" at the state's largest nursing home. Murphy has asked the state attorney general to investigate, and health department and federal health officials are also surveying the facility in Sussex County.

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SCHOOLS CLOSED UNTIL MAY 15

New Jersey's schools will be closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak at least until May 15.

Murphy ordered the state's more than 600 school districts to close last month as part of an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

"We cannot be guided by emotion. We need to be guided by where the facts on the ground, science and public health take us. And that means it will not be safe to reopen our schools or start sports back up for at least another four weeks," said Murphy.
Neighboring Pennsylvania has closed schools through the rest of the year.

RELATED: Mom meets newborn nearly 2 weeks after recovering from COVID-19-related comae

Murphy says the more people continue to social distance over the next four weeks, the better chance there is of possibly re-opening schools.

For now, it's a waiting game with students and teachers at home. Many say the switch to virtual learning has been a big adjustment for students and parents.

"Thank God for technology. Things like Zoom - he can at least see and talk to some of his teachers and his friends," said parent Karen Casey of Mullica Hill, N.J.

We found students trying to look on the bright side in these uncertain times.

"I think after all of this, it'll bring us all closer and enjoy everything more and the time we have together," said senior Kendall Hendricks, about to graduate from Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill.

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ABOUT THE VIRUS

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
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