LAKEWOOD, NJ – With daily percent positivity levels at peak pandemic levels, Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday addressed the Lakewood area coronavirus outbreak, telling the state, “All considerations are on the table as it relates to Lakewood.”
Lines at urgent care facilities and doctors’ offices for COVID-19 tests were long all week across Lakewood as residents rushed to get tested after a long holiday weekend for the community which boasts a large Orthodox Jewish community. Across New Jersey, the daily percent positivity of COVID-19 testing is at 3%. It’s the highest rate the state has seen since mid-July. According to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichili, the northern part of the state is reporting 2.73%; the central part of the state 3.79%; and the southern part of the state 2.4%. In Lakewood, the positivity rate is at a whopping 27% as of September 26th, nearly 24% higher than the rest of New Jersey. New Jersey has not had rates that high statewide since late April when the pandemic was at its peak.
“As noted, the positivity rate in Central New Jersey is reported as 3.79. That includes Ocean and Monmouth Counties,” Persichili said. “Ocean County reported 188 new cases today. 134 of those cases are in Lakewood. As of the 26th, Ocean County reported a positivity rate of 5.44%. As I stated, most of their new cases are concentrated in Lakewood.”
Ocean County, in particular, Lakewood is seeing three to four times the amount of positive COVID-19 cases per day than the rest of New Jersey. Surrounding communities of Toms River and Jackson Township have also seen large spikes correlating with the Lakewood increase.
“We are working closely with the Lakewood community and religious leaders to increase our testing at the federally qualified health centers in the region and to promote safeguarding initiatives throughout the town. We will be visiting Lakewood this week to meet with religious and community leaders,” Persichili said. “We will be visiting Ocean County, I should say, and to assess the situation further.”
“Ocean County is our main focus right now; it’s not our only focus, but it’s our main focus. I myself was back and forth with a range of elected officials, the Mayor of Lakewood, Ocean County Sheriff, a lot of the faith leaders,” Governor Murphy said. “Everybody is trying to do the right thing and they’ve been great partners, but just trying to get our arms around this.”
Murphy said state officials will be coming to Ocean County on Friday and will meet at the Bayville OEM center at 1 p.m. with county officials and religious community leaders.
“This is something we’re taking very, very seriously,” Murphy said. “A lot of active engagement and active considerations are on the table.”‘
The governor did not say what those considerations were, but so far during the pandemic has subscribed to a one size-fits-all method of handing the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey.
Murphy added, the cooperation from leadership, both elected as well as faith leaders, as well as the school community, has been outstanding, saying the community is doing everything it can do to keep the outbreak contained. Murphy’s tone when it comes to Lakewood is softened in comparison to previous reports of overcrowded bars, high school parties and businesses operating in violation of his executive orders during the pandemic.
“But you know, the transmission sometimes, we’ve seen this in other communities and other realities, we’ve seen it with universities,” Murphy apologetically said. “Everybody gets it, but you still have transmission issues, but at the street level, you have a reality that that doesn’t reflect the level of intensity and cooperation and outstanding leadership.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan said he was in touch with Prosecutor Billheimer of Ocean County, as well as Lakewood Police Chief Greg Meyer. Callahan said his office and the Lakewood Police department received numerous photos and complaints regarding executive order violations around the community.
“Because we’re seeing if we’re not having compliance issues, and then looking at the positivity rate, and I think the greatest thing that I took away from the Chief was just really reminding folks that with regard to worship services, that that’s the lesser of 25% capacity or 150 people,” Callahan said. “And as well, indoor worship, everybody should be wearing a facial covering or a mask. I think what I got from Chief Meyer was that some of the photographs that they had seen at the police department was with regards to the wearing of a mask indoors. I just offer that up as a reminder to all communities throughout the entire state with regard to lesser of 25% or 150 people indoors to worship, and when you are, just be vigilant about wearing masks.”