NJ Health Commissioner talks pandemic recovery at Rebovich event

By Hailey Hensley

In the wake of a global pandemic that has shaken people all over the world, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli ‘80 projected a timeline for the COVID-19 pandemic as well as provided some strategies everyone can use right now to slow the spread.

The Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics invited Persichilli to give a short speech and allow members of the Rider community to get their burning questions regarding the pandemic and a career in public service answered.

Persichilli received her master of arts in healthcare administration from Rider in 1980 after beginning her career as an intensive care nurse.

The event began with Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute, introducing Persichilli and providing a short biography, which was then followed by a talk from Persichilli where she outlined the ups and downs of her time as New Jersey Health Commissioner so far. She specified that her time in office began with the Newark water crisis, where lead was permeating the Newark water supply from the pipes.

The following months of her time in office have been filled with the ongoing pandemic, with New Jersey being one of the states hit the hardest early on after the pandemic began in the United States, which meant Persichilli had to be at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 since the very beginning.

Persichilli enumerated the importance of remaining vigilant in the fight against COVID-19, stating that social distancing and frequent handwashing still remain exceedingly important.

“After eight months, we understand we’re all suffering from endemic fatigue. But this virus isn’t suffering. This virus has been waiting for us to get lacks in our personal responsibilities so that it can come more roaring back and it has and in particular, we’re seeing many of the new cases linked to gatherings, small gatherings and private homes, where folks are more apt to let their guard down, especially in social distancing,” she said.

Persichilli reminded audience members of the COVID NJ app, which allows for BlueTooth contact tracing and is noninvasive to personal data. She encouraged viewers to download the app and participate in the program as a matter of public health.

“To complement traditional contact tracing efforts, the department recently launched our COVID alert NJ app for mobile devices. The app uses exposure notification system technology developed by Google and Apple. When the app senses a close contact who has tested positive, your phone will exchange a secure random code with the close contact’s phone,” said Persichilli

The app can be found in both the Google Play store and the Apple app store and it is free for users to download and participate.

“The COVID alert app notifies users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” she said. “COVID alert NJ is completely anonymous and does not track or collect any data or any location or personal data. It uses Bluetooth low energy technology to detect when another phone with the same app is within six feet. More than 314,000 residents have downloaded the app. But we need more. We need more to participate so that we can identify those that have been exposed and provide the safety that they need. I ask all of you to download the app and add your phone to the fight against COVID-19.”

Persichilli took time to elaborate on what a timeline for vaccination in New Jersey may look like and when life in the United States might be able to return to normal, with prospects looking bleak until late 2021.

“We have a big task ahead of us. We’re hopeful that the vaccines will provide the immunity that we need to protect our communities. But we won’t know that for a while, we won’t know that for a year, we will continue wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands frequently, practicing good respiratory etiquette, staying home if you’re sick and getting tested if you need it,” she said. “This is going to be our way of life for at least another year, as we plan for large-scale vaccination program that we hope will kick off at the end of December and go to June or July. We encourage you all to consider getting vaccinated. It’s the only tool we have.”

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