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On October 24, 2020 Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 192, requiring employers to conduct daily health checks of employees to protect NJ's workforce. More on EO 192 and additional COVID-19 updates below.
Nationally, the number of new COVID-19 infections continues to rise dramatically, in many parts of the country. Cooler weather, the increasing number of indoor activities, second waves of COVID outbreaks overseas, pandemic fatigue and increased levels of testing will continue to contribute to the increasing numbers. In New Jersey, the numbers of new COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising, but the hospitalizations and deaths are in much lower proportion to infections, than what was experienced earlier this year. This is also true in most other states across the country.
The rate of transmission in NJ is fluctuating in recent weeks between 1.16 and 1.60. Anything above 1.0 is considered concerning. The higher the number, the greater the risk of viral spread throughout the community. This rate has consistently averaged above 1.0 over the last several weeks.
In October, the entire State, region by region, gradually moved from low COVID activity (green) to moderate COVID activity (yellow). COVID activity has been slowly but consistently increasing, including in Morris County. It should be noted that out of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties, Morris County is now ranked seventh in COVID activity. Within all of the Pequannock Health Department’s jurisdictions, the number of new cases has been steadily increasing. While these aren’t necessarily sharp increases, the increases are pronounced and trending upward.
Please see the links below for the NJ Regional COVID Activity Report and Diagram through October 17th and the links to the Morris County Health Department COVID Websites. The County links include COVID Testing availability:
NJ Regional COVID Activity Report
Morris County Health Department COVID Website
Contact Tracing and Disease Investigation
The NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) has provided additional contact tracers to our local Health Department from the State work force. They support the operation while under the direction of the Pequannock Health Department’s nurse supervisors. The Department has recently requested and received another contact tracer be assigned to our jurisdiction.
Revised Definition of Close Contact to a COVID Positive Individual
Effective as of October 22, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) updated their criteria for what is now considered a Close Contact in regards to someone’s exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual.
As you were made aware of in past communications, the previous definition of a Close Contact by the NJDOH was any individual 6 feet or closer to a COVID-19 positive individual for 10 consecutive minutes. This definition has now been changed by the NJDOH to read - “a total of 15 minutes or more of close contact exposure (6 feet or closer) to an infected person during a 24-hour period. Those determined to be a close contact to a COVID -19 positive individual must quarantine or a period of not less than 14 days. This remains unchanged.
School Operations and COVID while addressing outbreaks
Now that schools and universities are in operation, the Pequannock Health Department is working closely with these institutions to contact trace, isolate and quarantine individuals to quickly contain any spread of the COVID-19 virus that may be identified within these institutions. It some cases, classes or certain schools have suspended in-person instruction for 14 day quarantine periods when spread exceeds CDC guidelines.
Most school districts have implemented and are maintaining a hybrid model, which is mix of in-person and remote learning. The Pequannock Health Department continues to provide extensive and ongoing COVID-19 guidance, along with COVID planning, surveillance, and contact tracing efforts in all five public school districts, private schools and universities within our jurisdictions. Much of the increases in new COVID infections are unrelated to the organized school and classroom activities, but rather are more related to social interactions, especially indoors, in which relaxed attitudes about taking precautions have been identified as a primary driver of the increases.
Attendance at Crowded Gatherings Can Increase Risk of COVID Transmission
As we begin to move indoor as weather changes and as cold and flu season approaches, it cannot be stressed enough that large, crowded gatherings, especially indoor or in closed up tents, where social distancing isn't being practiced and where face masks aren't being worn when necessary, are in part contributing to the spread of COVID-19. This is especially true at parties or large events where eating and drinking precludes the use of masks and music may be playing loudly causing people to get close and project themselves so they can be heard in conversation. Indoor spaces may not be as well ventilated and the space may make it difficult to socially distance properly.
The public must continue to be diligent about the following, while enjoying activities:
Anti-Viral Treatment and Vaccine Update
On October 22, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) for use in adult and pediatric patients 12 years of age and older and weighing at least 40 kilograms (about 88 pounds) for the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. The FDA states that Veklury should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care. Veklury is the first treatment for COVID-19 to receive FDA approval.
The NJDOH has been asked by the CDC to begin planning strategies for SARS-CoV-2 vaccination to begin as early as November 30, 2020. Upon the completion of Phase Three trials and approval from the FDA to proceed, NJ will begin receiving shipments of the vaccine and it will begin to be disseminated to the population by priority group .
At this time, priority groups are being established to receive vaccines based on the highest risk populations. The groups are broken into categories of priority. Categories 1-A and 1-B consist of healthcare workers in hospitals, long term care facilities, medi-centers, physicians, first responders, etc. and critical infrastructure workers who are responsible to provide essential services to the public. Some examples of these critical infrastructure workers would be those in utilities, water treatment, transportation, food related industries, critical supply chain workers, etc. These first two priority groups will also likely include residents at long term care facilities.
Upon completing vaccination to the first two priority groups, vaccine will be disseminated to those in Category 2, which consists of the vulnerable populations. Last, will the n be disseminated to those in Category 3, which consists of the general population 18 years of age and older. Early planning indicates that the vaccines will initially be allocated incrementally to the States from late November through the end of January. More vaccine dosages will follow as dissemination to the general public expands. The vaccines will likely require a two shot regimen, either twenty one or twenty eight days apart, depending on which vaccine is given.
There are many other logistical obstacles that must be considered in regards to mass vaccination, not the least of which is storing the vaccine at the required 70 degrees below zero. This and many other considerations are still in the early stages of planning at the Federal, State, County and local levels and involves both public health, homeland security and emergency management agencies.
The latest COVID-19 relevant Executive Orders that were issued, are as follows:
Executive Order No. 181 Allows Gyms, Indoor Amusement and Water Parks
Effective 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2020 “Health clubs,” as defined by N.J.S.A. 56:8-39, which include gyms and fitness centers, as well as amusement and water parks, can open their indoor premises as of 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2020, provided that such businesses adopt policies that include, at minimum, the following requirements:
Executive Order No. 183 Allows Indoor Dining and Performance and Entertainment Venues
Effective at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, September 4, 2020, restaurants, cafeterias, dining establishments, and food courts, with or without a liquor license, bars, and all other holders of a liquor license with retail consumption privileges, collectively referred to as “food or beverage establishments,” are permitted to offer in-person service at indoor areas, provided that the establishment complies with the following requirements:
Effective at 6:00 a.m. on September 4, 2020, entertainment centers where performances are viewed or given, including movie theaters, performing arts centers, and other concert venues, may open their indoor spaces to the public with the following requirements:
Executive Order No. 187 Allows the Resumption of Certain Indoor and Outdoor Sports Activities
Effective October 12, 2020, non-contact practices, contact practices, and competitions for sports defined as “Low Risk”, “Medium Risk”, and “High Risk” by DOH’s “Guidance for Sports Activities” are permitted in both outdoor and indoor settings. All activities referenced in this Paragraph are subject to the “Guidance for Sports Activities” issued by the Commissioner of the DOH, and such activities must comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and Executive Orders, including restrictions on recreational and entertainment businesses.
No-contact practices, contact practices, and competitions that are conducted indoors are subject to the current indoor gathering limit of 25% of the capacity of the room in which it takes place, with such limit not to exceed 25 persons or be smaller than 10 persons. However, if the number of individuals who are necessary for a non-contact practice, contact practice, or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, is greater than 25 persons, such a non-contact practice, contact practice, or competition may proceed, as long as no individuals are present who are not necessary for the no-contact practice, practice, or competition, such as spectators. If this exception applies, the number of individuals at such an indoor gathering still may not exceed 25% of the capacity of the room in which it takes place, and such limit may not exceed 150 persons.
Executive Order No. 192 To Protect New Jersey’s Workforce During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Effective at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 5, 2020, every business, non-profit, and governmental or educational entity that requires or permits its workforce, whether in part or as a whole, to be physically present at a worksite to perform work is required, at a minimum, to abide by the requirements set forth in the Order, to protect employees, customers, and all others who come into physical contact with its operations. The Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DOLWD”), in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Health, is hereby authorized to provide support for efforts to enforce the requirements set forth in the Executive Order at the local level.
*NOTE- Other restrictions and requirements may be applicable for the activities specified in the above mentioned Executive Orders. For additional information, please refer to the entire content of the Executive Orders and Executive Directives at the links below.
Governor Murphy's Executive Orders
NJ Executive Directives