Gov. Phil Murphy is asking the Trump administration for help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while the state looks at reopening eight shuttered hospitals, all in a bid to ramp up its ability to accommodate a potential surge of coronavirus cases.
“This move would be prudent to expand capacity and alleviate strain on our hospitals,” Murphy said Tuesday afternoon, at his daily coronavirus press briefing.
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the administration has been in talks with hospital CEOs across the state about reopening eight facilities that closed in prior years, though she has declined to identify which sites.
All told, that could add 185 negative pressure rooms, the commissioner said.
This comes as the total number of COVID-19 cases spread to 287 residents. On Monday, Murphy activated the New Jersey National Guard to mobilize the state’s response – likely to handle transportation, traffic control and security, and to use its engineers to bring the older medical facilities back online.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency meanwhile, will set up two major drive-thru testing centers in the state – one at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel and another at Bergen Community College in Paramus – as part of a dozen states nationwide.
“This only appears to be a fraction of the capacity that will be needed as Coronavirus-19 spreads through the New Jersey population,” Gov. Phil Murphy wrote in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump. “Our Department of Health projects that just within the next two weeks, we may need an additional 2,000 critical care beds, with 10 percent of these beds needing ventilators,” he added.
The governor continued that the state could face a “peak shortfall” of up to 313,000 hospital beds between May and October.
“Should these projections materialize in the coming weeks and months, doctors and health care employees in New Jersey may be forced to make the agonizing decisions that the world has seen in northern Italy — they will have no choice but to deny lifesaving care, including ventilators, to those in need of it,” the governor added.
Persichilli said that the state may end up using just three of the decommissioned hospitals, while dormant wings of existing hospitals could also be utilized.
“If we reopen a hospital and we don’t need it, it will be the best mistake we ever made,” Murphy said.
Currently, the state has 700 isolation beds, 1,183 intensive-care beds and 23,687 acute-care beds, according to the health commissioner.
“But we also, over here, have to buy [an] insurance policy of finding more capacity, if for whatever reason our efforts to flatten that curve — which I’m highly confident we’ll be able to do — we have a backup plan,” the governor said.
Now-empty college dormitories could be used for quarantine of less serious infections, according to Murphy.
In the immediate term, the FEMA testing sites in Bergen and Monmouth counties could handle hundreds of COVID-19 tests each day, according to Col. Pat Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, though it is not clear when exactly the sites will be ready.
Callahan said he met with FEMA officials earlier on Tuesday as they arrive in the state to bring the two sites online.
FEMA will bring in weekly supplies of tents, testing kits and personal protective equipment. Shipments from Indiana and Georgia are currently bound for New Jersey and are expected to arrive on Wednesday, he added.