New Jersey hits goal of 20,000 daily coronavirus tests, Gov. Murphy says

TRENTON, New Jersey -- New Jersey surpassed its goal a few days early of conducting at least 20,000 coronavirus tests per day, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.

There were 30,000 tests Saturday, the Democrat said, before the tally dipped over the Memorial Day holiday. Then on Tuesday, there were 24,000 tests, he said. The state wanted to hit at least 20,000 daily tests by the end of May.

"We want New Jerseyans to get tested," Murphy said. "Anyone who wants to get tested can get tested."

The governor is using the tests as a barometer for reopening the state's economy as the pandemic threat eases. More testing gives health leaders a better picture of the scope of the outbreak, Murphy has said.

The "best tool in our toolkit" to fight the virus is quarantining positive cases and to do that "you need to find the positives," Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Wednesday.

Getting a coronavirus test no longer requires a prescription. While the general public can get a test, essential workers and those who believe they could have the virus are encouraged to get them, Persichilli said.

New Jersey has 164 testing centers. Some are publicly run and some are privately operated.

The state reported 970 positive cases overnight, bringing the total to about 157,000. There were 148 new deaths, putting the death toll at 11,339.

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

A look at other developments in New Jersey:

TOLL HIKES

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority voted Wednesday to increase tolls on two of the state's major highways and approve a $24 billion construction plan that the hike will fund.

The board's 7-0 vote came despite pleas from many people to delay it. They said the agency should not have gone ahead with the hearing process while residents are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The construction plan includes $16 billion to widen sections of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, permanently implement cashless toll payment and replace a bridge between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County, specifically asked the board to "hit the pause button" on the highway widening plans, saying officials should wait to see what happens with travel patterns once the pandemic eases.

Tolls will increase Sept. 13 on the two main toll roads.

The authority has said tolls would rise by 36% on the New Jersey Turnpike, meaning the average trip which now costs $3.50 would rise to $4.80. Tolls on the Garden State Parkway would rise by 27% on the Garden State Parkway, meaning the average trip which now costs $1.11 would increase by 30 cents.

___

CARE HOME TESTING

Most of the more than 500 care homes in the state have reported testing data as required this month by the governor, Persichilli said.

Of those homes, 86% sent the state reports from tests of staffers and residents, she said. All such homes in the state have submitted paperwork saying they've updated their testing and outbreak response plans.

Murphy said May 12 that all long-term care homes in New Jersey would have to test all residents and staffers by this week.

___

BOARDWALK OPENING

Another Jersey Shore town is planning to reopen its boardwalk.

Point Pleasant Beach plans to make the move Friday and will also start lifting parking restrictions. But the rides, amusements and games along the boardwalk will remain closed, and restaurants will be open for takeout only.

Officials last month limited much of the town's parking to residents. But private and public lots will be allowed to reopen Friday, and remaining restrictions will be lifted June 5.
Copyright © 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.