NJ health chief isolates after COVID exposure; Gov begs caution
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has begun to quarantine after an employee in her office tested positive for COVID-19, according to the department on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health said the employee who now has novel coronavirus was last in the building on Tuesday, and some other colleagues also were working from home as part of a precautionary quarantine.
On Sunday, New Jersey reported 3,851 new positive cases and 13 new confirmed deaths, following Saturday's statewide data from 71 hospitals, which included another 3,924 new positive cases and 24 new confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.
Also as of Sunday, New Jersey had seen 66 school outbreaks, involving 269 cases of coronavirus linked to those outbreaks.
The announcement of Perischilli's exposure to a positive case came ahead of a TV appearance by Gov. Phil Murphy on "Fox News Sunday," during which Murphy said another pandemic lockdown was not entirely out of the question, though not something he'd want to resort to.
"In terms of a shutdown, I don't anticipate it, and I sure as heck don't want to go that route," Murphy said during the interview with host Brett Baier, who stood in for host Chris Wallace.
After Baier asked the governor why a shutdown would still be possible despite concern for the economic impact of putting stiffer restrictions back in place, Murphy said "I'm not sure I'd say possible, Brett, but it has to stay on the table."
He continued "You hate like heck to even have to consider that and God willing, we won't even have to." Murphy noted a "big, federal stimulus sooner than later," to benefit small businesses, restaurants and people still out of work would be a "game changer" for dealing with COVID spread.
Murphy said the colder weather along with the holiday season would make for a "rough ride," as the state already has been seeing high rates of "private transmission" of the virus.
"I would just beg folks, particularly in the holiday season, particularly before we get to a vaccine — don't let your hair down, keep your guard up," Murphy said, adding inter-generational spread to elderly relatives who are in the higher risk categories are among the state's biggest concerns.
Murphy also said he gives President Donald Trump and The White House Coronavirus Task Force credit for the progress of Operation Warp Speed and voiced hope that the White House could help rally public support behind a COVID-19 vaccine, alongside the transition team of President-Elect Joe Biden.
"The more the president elect and the president are speaking from the same playbook, the more confidence folks will have in taking that vaccine," Murphy said.
The state health commissioner's office was closed on Saturday and cleaned according to CDC guidelines, according to the same statement.
Persichilli would not be taking part in in-person press conferences during her quarantine, her office said Saturday.