Gov. Murphy warns against quick reopening as New Jersey tops 8,000 deaths

TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- New Jersey on Tuesday reported 334 new deaths from the coronavirus, pushing the death toll over 8,000, and leading Gov. Phil Murphy to admonish those calling for quickly reopening the state's economy.

COVID-19 fatalities reached 8,244, Murphy said, and the number of positive cases rose by about 2,500 since Monday, to 130,000.

The figures continue to climb, again surpassing New York on the day, which had 230 deaths, despite other positive trends in New Jersey: The number of people in the hospital stands at 5,328, which is a three-week low, and the time it takes COVID-19 cases to double has climbed above one month in most of the state, Murphy said.

Murphy pushed back at those clamoring to reopen the state, saying that he is hearing "morning, noon and night" about reopening nonessential businesses, as well as beaches ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

"Nobody is itching more to get the state back up and running more than yours truly and the team up here, but we gotta do it right. We gotta do it responsibly. We gotta do it safely and we are committed to that whether, folks, frankly, whether you like that or not," Murphy said.

Murphy has laid out a six-point plan for reopening, which calls for consistent positive trends, which the state has not yet seen with deaths and new cases. He hasn't set a date for reopening.

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.

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NURSING HOME INVESTIGATIONS

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Tuesday his office is continuing to investigate nursing homes that have had a disproportionate number of COVID-19-related deaths.

"If you have first hand knowledge of illegal activity or other misconduct at a long-term care facility or in this industry during the pandemic or before, please let us know," he said during the press briefing.

Grewal said he wasn't ready to announce any charges, but unveiled a website where people could leave tips about possible illegality: covid19.nj.gov/LTC.

Officials also reported the results of a pilot program with Cooper, providing universal testing at 16 long term-care facilities in South Jersey, saying 24.4% of residents and almost 10% of staff tested positive.

"Most of these individuals were asymptomatic. I want you to reflect on that as we promote social distancing," said Judy Persichilli, Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health.

She added that those who tested negative will be tested again, and more facilities will be tested in the coming weeks.

The investigation stemmed from a request from Murphy after news broke last month of a "makeshift morgue" at the state's largest facility in Andover, New Jersey.

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ANTIBODY TESTING

Antibody testing is becoming more widely available in New Jersey. Quest Diagnostics launched its antibody test last week, and Cape May County officials want residents to know they can be tested at local labs or hospitals.

"We're looking to see who may have been exposed. It doesn't necessarily mean because you have a positive antibody showing that there's immunity. The scientists are still looking at all that," said Natalie Sendler, director of Public Health Nursing for Cape May County.

The test is $119. If you have a doctors note, it may be covered by insurance.

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