Coronavirus: Legislators aid in local and national fight against outbreak

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Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay 
By Bradford Mason

New Jersey leaders are on the front lines to not only prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) from spreading the Garden State but also across the nation.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Executive Order No. 103 declares a state of emergency and public health emergency across all 21 counties in New Jersey, allowing state agencies and departments to utilize state resources to assist affected communities responding to and recovering from COVID-19 cases.

“The State of New Jersey is committed to deploying every available resource, across all levels of government, to help respond to the spread of COVID-19 and keep our residents informed,” said Murphy. “My Administration will continue to work closely with our federal partners to ensure that local health agencies on the front lines of the state’s response are equipped with the resources needed to further prepare our health care system for a broader spread of COVID-19.”

The declaration tasks the State Director of Emergency Management and Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Colonel Patrick Callahan, in conjunction with New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner, Judith Persichilli, to oversee the implementation of the State Emergency Operations plan and generally direct the State’s emergency response.

The following day, Murphy announced administrative actions from the Department of Banking and Insurance, Department of Human Services, Department of Health, and Department of the Treasury to support consumer access to COVID-19 testing and testing-related services. The Administration's efforts waive consumer cost sharing for all medically necessary COVID-19 testing, as well as services related to testing. 

“In order to remove barriers to testing for COVID-19, the Department, in coordination with the Department of Human Services, has instructed hospitals to eliminate consumer cost sharing associated with testing and testing-related services for COVID-19 for individuals who are eligible for charity care,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.  

A 69-year-old man was the first person to die in the tri-state area from coronavirus. Reports indicate the man, who was from Little Ferry, worked at Yonkers Raceway and was diabetic and had high blood pressure.

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka informed residents that his office is closely monitoring the situation. Newark currently has no reported coronavirus cases and Baraka said scheduled events will still take place including his State of the City Address and the city's St. Patricks Day Parade.

"The health and safety of the people of Newark is a top priority for me and my administration," he said. "As we closely monitor the developments and impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we also continue to update our plan and communicate with Newark and county hospitals/medical facilities, Newark Public Schools, and the business community to ensure that our city is well prepared."

New Jersey U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez  introduced a bill aimed at helping Americans with the medical costs of any tests, care, or treatment related to the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The Care for COVID-19 Act would require health insurance plans to cover both diagnostic and treatment services related to the virus, with no cost-sharing to the patient. This includes the cost of prescriptions, vaccines, diagnostic tests, and visits to the emergency room, urgent care facilities, or doctor’s office.

“For so many Americans, fears of health care costs and potential medical debt are major barriers standing in the way of getting the care they need,” Booker said. “During a public health emergency like the one we are experiencing right now, it’s even more imperative that people are able to obtain affordable health care. This common-sense bill will ensure individuals can get the diagnostic and treatment services they need right now.”

One major issue in New Jersey when it comes to coronavirus is a the lack of ability to test a large number of residents. A New Jersey Department of Health official said the state could only test a few hundred of its almost nine million residents.     

On Tuesday morning, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman wrote to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Robert R. Redfield to request a clear plan for what states like New Jersey should expect from the CDC for COVID-19 testing.

“I join my constituents and residents across New Jersey in expressing frustration with the delayed confirmation of New Jersey’s 11 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, from the [CDC],” Watson Coleman wrote. “This morning, when I asked you about these pending confirmations, you conceded that ‘we’re moving in [a] direction’ where the public should no longer expect CDC to verify test results from state labs. As this will be a departure from current policy, can you clarify at what point you expect this shift to take place? Further, what is your plan to communicate this change in policy to states and their labs?”

Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. lead a subcommittee hearing this week that found the United States could handle the amount of coronavirus cases right now, but health experts said it was far from ready if the disease continues to spread.

Experts told members of the House Committee on Homeland Security that states lack the number of coronavirus kits to test citizens and the administration is not seeking out people who might be infected, preferring to wait until they get sick.

“The administration’s response to this public health crisis has been woefully inadequate,” said Payne, Jr.  “We need to get up to speed to make sure our citizens have the health protections they need.  The public does not know enough about the administration’s plan to attack coronavirus and hysteria is caused by not knowing.  The more information we can get to the public, the better off we will be.”   

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