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New Jersey governor lays out plan to boost testing, contact tracing

New Jersey governor lays out plan to boost testing, contact tracing
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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday laid out his plan to boost testing and contact tracing in the Garden State as pressure mounts on him to begin reopening the state’s economy.

Murphy’s plan would see hundreds of millions of dollars invested in boosting Trenton’s testing and contact tracing capabilities, with the governor using his daily briefing to call for an influx in federal aid.

“None of what we’re talking about today will come cheap. Maintaining both a steady supply of testing materials and a community of contact tracers will take hundreds of millions of dollars,” Murphy said.

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Murphy’s plan would have New Jersey be able to test at least 20,000 people per day by the end of the month and as many as 25,000 people by the end of June, a sharp rise from the 12,000 patients the state was able to test a day by the end of April.

Murphy said the state government will also be hiring at least one “end to end” testing vendor to support local health departments. New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said tests will be prioritized for vulnerable populations such as migrant workers and first responders. 

New Jersey will also bring aboard between 1,000 and 5,000 workers to investigate the contacts of patients who were recently diagnosed with the coronavirus in an attempt to cobble together a web of those who could have been exposed to the highly infectious virus.

The New Jersey Department of Health is contracting with the Rutgers School of Public Health to hire the “first tranche” of the workforce, Murphy said. 

The state already has between 800 and 900 workers who are serving in contact tracing capacities across New Jersey.

Building on those efforts, Murphy will also sign an executive order requiring each county and local health office to download technology that can help coordinate contact tracing efforts across the state and in the greater New York City region, which has emerged as the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

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“We’re going to have to use contact tracing unlike it’s ever been deployed before,” he said. “With the threat of COVID-19, we must now centralize these efforts. We are here to help the local health departments, not take them over.”

Murphy has taken stringent efforts to try to blunt the coronavirus’s spread, first directing most retail businesses to temporarily close and for residents to stay home starting on March 21. However, the state’s economy has been staggered by the pandemic’s fiscal fallout, leading state Republicans to call for the lifting of some of the strictest measures. 

New Jersey has had more than 140,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 9,500 fatalities since the outbreak began.