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By Joseph AxEdith Honan. NEW YORK Reuters - A New Jersey judge ordered state officials on Friday to allow same-sex couples to marry starting on October 21, saying the current civil union system unfairly deprived them of federal benefits available to married couples.


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Governor Phil Murphy: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry for the few minutes delay, technical difficulties on my end. Thank you for ing us virtually today. With me on screen, as you can see, the woman who needs no introduction, the Commissioner of the Department of Health, Judy Persichilli. The State's Epidemiologist, another familiar face, Dr. Christina Tan. And today we have a real special guest, we have Dr. We are incredibly grateful, Doctor, to have you on with us today.

In deference to your schedule, we will do things a little bit differently today. I'll give a quick rundown on the s and a few points on vaccinations. And then, I'll turn things over to Dr. Nunez Smith, and then we'll pick up with the rest of the program after her remarks.

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Again, it's great to have you with us, Doctor. Let's get right to it. Our dashboard today is showing a total of 1, administered vaccine doses as of midmorning today. Without question, that has now broken through 1. This count includes 1. Judy, I got the word as I was coming in here, the Burlington County mega site for the first time cracked 4, doses in a day, which I know you know, which is a huge milestone.

Should -- and I say should -- this application be approved, as it appears it may, we have been notified that we should expect an additional shipment of roughly 70, doses to be delivered to us next week. Needless to say, there will be a lot of meetings and calls this weekend on exactly how to deploy those doses.

First off, simply having a third tool in our toolbox is critical.

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An additional 70, doses in one week means another 70, vaccinated New Jerseyans. And this, remember, is a vaccination that would require only one dose, regular refrigeration, no follow up necessary.

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However, in terms of our continued efforts to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, this would be even more vital. With Dr. Nunez-Smith with us, I would put our efforts up against any other American state in terms of ensuring equitable access to the vaccines. We have worked with our federally qualified health centers to undertake vaccinations right in the community clinics that many residents already rely upon and trust. And as I noted on Wednesday, we are partnering across all levels of government -- federal, state, county and local -- and ing our faith institutions and other organizations in ten cities, overwhelmingly communities of color, to open vaccination centers for residents who need us to bring the vaccine to them.

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Judy, Pat and I had the opportunity to visit two of these sites. Other cities where this partnership will be helping us vaccinate more folks are from north to south, Paterson, Newark, Orange, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Camden, Pleasantville and Vineland.

The Paterson site is opening next week with Camden and Jersey City slated for the following week. And it is in the same spirit that we also continue the strong community testing programs that we have initiated with our churches, which is seen through more than pop-up testing locations we've been able to open over the past six months.

Again, these have been held at churches and community centers and right in senior housing and other places where we know we needed to bring the resources into the community. Through the federal pharmacy partnership, both CVS and Walgreens have undertaken the work of vaccinating every willing resident and staff member of our long-term care facilities. And again, we reached deep to bring as many of our facilities under this umbrella as possible.

Separate partnership, our partnership with Walmart and the Department of Human Services has also provided access to the vaccine for thousands of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities residing in group homes, another high-risk congregant setting and their direct support professionals.

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And as we move through the remainder of our intellectual and developmental disabilities group homes, we will continue allocating doses to this partnership for our seniors over 75 years old. Nunez-Smith, I'm going to quote you, you said "Communities are the experts in what they need. They don't need to be told. I am honored by the work we've undertaken with our communities, especially with our faith institutions.

Before I turn things over to Dr. Nunez-Smith, let's just run quickly through the rest of the overnight s. That's a one-day total of 4, The statewide rate of transmission stays under one, 0. Our hospitals were treating a total of 2, patients as of p. Of that group, were in our ICUs and ventilators were in use. All three of these important metrics continue to trend downward: total hospitalizations, ICU patients, ventilators in use. Some folks ask us and I think, Judy, you should feel free to comment on this in your remarks. Other states have seen this come down even faster. Remember, we're the densest state in the nation.

We're the densest region of the nation. And we have the highest per capita amount of long-term care facilities and patients of any state in the nation.

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Most of those things, in good times, are good attributes. With a pandemic, that makes it more challenging. And we've said that before, but we haven't said it in a while. And this is comparing apples to oranges because these fatalities are not confirmed. But hospitals reported 28 deaths yesterday. And you can see there the staggering totals.

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This pandemic has devastated our state across nearly a full year. We know that its impact among our Black and Brown communities has been outsized, and that it has shed light on and exacerbated inequities in our healthcare system that we are now committed to ending.

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But let's be clear: COVID did not create these inequities and they won't simply disappear once we defeat this virus. But as it is said, everything brings with it an opportunity, and the opportunity afforded to us by the pandemic is to meaningfully take on and hopefully eradicate these inequities so we can emerge as a stronger, fairer and healthier New Jersey. And with that, it is now my distinct pleasure to introduce our special guest. Before that, a professor. Just an incredible talent and we're humbled and honored to have her with us today.

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Please help me welcome Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. What a warm welcome. You know, I did my residency training up in the Harvard system so, you know, lots of love there.

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It's a great pleasure to you today for the COVID briefing and the partnership between the federal administration and New Jersey is strong. I really love how you framed that last part, Governor. Even though COVID did not create the inequities that drive what we're seeing now, disproportionate impact of the virus in certain communities, we have an opportunity and responsibility to take these on to eradicate inequities now.

That's what I'm going to talk about this afternoon with all of you just for a few minutes. In both of those roles, I would say my job is to spend every minute of every day really championing what we're doing now: this commitment that we're going to make as a nation to address and advance COVID equity.

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There are some things I get asked a lot about what makes this moment in our history perhaps different from others. I think there are several things. Vice President Harris could not be more committed to the mission of ending this pandemic, really in part by tackling head on these inequities, and addressing the needs in the communities that have been the hardest hit.

From the very highest levels of our government, we have the charge, we have to press on for equity. With everything that the Governor just outlined, it's clear the commitment is strong here in New Jersey to equity as well -- the efforts that are ongoing, the large mass vaccination sites of federally qualified health systems, working with the pharmacies -- key approaches to equitable distribution strategy. I think that it's perfect that those strategies mirror very closely the federally run programs that were launched in the first few weeks of the Biden-Harris administration similarly, with the intent of promoting equity.

Our community vaccination centers, mass vaccination sites selected based on measures like social vulnerability and their likelihood of reducing inequity. That's how we think about where to place them. Similarly, for the retail pharmacy program, the community health center partnerships, really getting vaccine and vaccination to trusted entities and communities similarly thinking about social economic disadvantage in that work. The federal government as well has stood up mobile vaccination sites.

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And that's when we know, as my colleague Andy Slavitt says, when we have to take vaccines to people, we need mobile for those hardest-to-reach communities. And then in a big picture, we have to think about expansion of high quality healthcare, really thinking about the public health workforce. How do we strengthen the social services safety net, always, always as our North Star equity. I want to reflect some more what the Governor said because at its core, this work is always about the grassroots. Hearing about those churches, those faith partnerships in Trenton, Franklin Township, New Jersey clearly understands how you reach people, the people who have been the hardest hit, right?

Not through just top-down messaging campaigns, but through real engagement, trusted spaces, trusted messengers.

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