Murphy’s Year-end COVID-19 Briefing

In his final COVID-19 briefing of the year, Gov. Phil Murphy pointed to the fact that 404 lost lives were remembered during his conferences since March 30.

“As much as science and data matters, these people cannot become mere statistics. They are the faces of New Jersey,” Murphy said. “They are individual lives lived and lost with families left behind.”

Adding that families were not able to hold normal funerals during the pandemic, the governor said his memorializing the 404 lives was a way of hopefully bringing “some type of closure” to all of the families of the 17,000 people who died from the virus this year.  “We remember every single one of the lives lost. … God bless them and the families they leave behind,” he said.

The governor said better days are coming in 2021, but the New Year should be greeted “with the same footing on which we are ending 2020.” This includes social distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing hands. “The New Year will be better, but it will not be on day one. … Look at the numbers. We can’t consider ourselves done with the virus because the virus is not done with us,” he said.

In attendance on the virtual conference was Congressman Frank Pallone who discussed the recent stimulus package that was signed by President Trump on Sunday.

Pallone sees the package, which was married with the annual federal appropriations bill, as a down payment for further relief money that the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden may deliver.

“I am not going to oversell this [current] bill,” Pallone said. “The Democrats thought the numbers should be higher. We are still trying to get $2,000 for direct cash payments.  We wanted $600 per week, not $300 per week, for unemployment benefits. Most important, we wanted money for direct state and local aid.”

Pallone also said he and his colleagues were also able to increase the money for vaccines, testing and contact tracing from $17 billion to $22.4 billion. Of that money, New Jersey will receive $500 million for testing and contact tracing and $115 million for vaccine distribution. “This money has to go out within 21 days, even sooner,” Pallone said.

Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, discussed the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (also part of the new stimulus bill), which extends the eligibility period for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) for 11 weeks: from Dec. 31, 2020 until Mar. 14, 2021.

“We know there are still a lot of questions to answer, but those receiving PUA or PEUC should continue to certify for the benefits,” Asaro-Angelo said. “We’re glad our federal partners have indicated there will be no missed week, even though the bill wasn’t signed on Saturday. We will continue to update our claimants as we receive more information from Washington.”

The bill restarts the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program for all claimants at a level of $300 per week, rather than the original $600 per week, from the week ending January 2 through March 13.

Asaro-Angelo also said the vast majority of claimants won’t see any changes or experience any hiccups in the unemployment certification and payment process.

In other news, Governor Murphy announced that COVID-19 vaccinations are underway for residents and staff of the state’s three veterans memorial homes.

Residents and staff of the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home began receiving vaccinations this past Monday and vaccinations are scheduled to begin over the course of the next week at the Menlo Park and Vineland Veterans Memorial Homes as part of the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program with CVS and Walgreens.

“Our veterans were there for us in our time of greatest need,” said Governor Murphy. “Now it is our turn to protect them with the distribution of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. While this pandemic is far from over, these vaccines will undoubtedly reduce the risk of severe illness or death among the residents of our veterans memorial homes.”

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