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Assemblyman Herb Conaway.

Conaway defends state’s handling of COVID crisis

Assembly Health Committee chairman tackles GOP criticisms

By Nikita Biryukov, June 05 2020 4:41 pm

Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Moorsetown) sought to defend Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli from Republican attacks that credit deaths in the state’s long-term care centers to a March order they claim forced the facilities to admit COVID-19 positive patients.

“There’s a lot of miscommunication around that late march letter giving direction and guidance with respect to readmissions from the hospital back into the nursing home. For some reason, there’s this idea that nursing homes were in fact mandated to do that, and that’s just not true,” Conaway said. “The letter indicated certain parameters that you had to meet in order to be available for readmissions from hospitals.”

To admit such patients, Conaway said, a long-term care center needed to have the ability to segregate infected residents from the general population and to meet staffing level thresholds, among other things.

Conaway, who chairs the Assembly Health Committee, also pointed to the federal government’s initially disastrous response to the crisis, saying states that relied on federal support for testing materials and personal protective equipment in the early days of the crisis saw little help from President Donald Trump’s administration.

‘The state government relied, in part, on federal supply, and they just kept sending the wrong stuff,” Conaway, a physician specializing in internal medicine, said. “They were sending test supplies that were not appropriate to the equipment used to do the testing. They sent the wrong swabs. They sent the wrong culture medium.”

The assemblyman also addressed criticisms over New Jersey’s relatively laggard reopening pace.

While some states have completely reopened their economies, restrictions are still in place for entire industries in the Garden State, a move that Conaway says may help the state avoid a renewed surge of COVID-19 cases.

“I think, personally, that it is more appropriate, and I think there’s an expectation on the part of the public that as we move forward, we do so in a way that minimizes loss of life,” he said. “If you’re reckless about it and many people among us end up being infected by the virus, a percentage of those people are going to die. We’ve already seen that at play. The question is do we want to see that again?”

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