The Department of Health will weigh whether to create exceptions for vaccinated individuals that could allow adult residents with developmental disability to rejoin day programs that must remain shuttered in areas of the state with high levels of COVID-19 activity, a designation currently met by every New Jersey county.
“There’s a lot of very rightful concern,” Murphy said at Monday’s virus briefing. “I know your team, Judy, is reviewing the developmental disability visitation realities, and I know you’re going to start to consider factoring in vaccination levels as part of that.”
The governor’s comments come after two Republican lawmakers, State Sens. Tony Bucco (R-Boonton) and Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) last week called for the state to loosen its strict reopening guidelines for the day programs, which have remained shuttered for months.
The state’s guidance, issued on March 15 by the Division of Developmental Disabilities, allowed day programs to reopen at 50% on March 29 so long as the region the facility is located in had a COVID-19 Activity Index Level (CALI) score of moderate or low.
That guidance would have briefly allowed facilities in three counties — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland — to reopen, but their viral activity increased in a CALI report for the week ending March 27.
Now, every county in the state reports a high activity level.
“We do rely on the CALI scores, but they are used as a guide for the Department of Human Services, who actually developed the plans for the disability population,” Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. “So, we work in concert with them, but the CALI score definitely points us in a direction to be more conservative or more protective than not.”
Murphy on Friday said state officials would review requests to loosen the guidance, but it’s still not clear when, or whether, any changes are forthcoming.
The state’s moderate virus forecasting model estimates cases New Jersey’s virus cases won’t peak until April 18, though compliance with social distancing and masking guidelines can puh that date in either direction.
That could mean day programs will remain shuttered for weeks yet.
“I think we all acknowledge the overwhelming mental health and general stress that everybody has suffered, but particularly vulnerable communities and their families,” Murphy said. “And this is an example of as vulnerable a community as we have in the state.”