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(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Senate is establishing a “Review and Recovery” committee to study the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The bipartisan committee will look at a variety of issues including the state’s response to long-term care facilities and the unemployment system.

“It’s clear that mistakes were made and important lessons can be learned to improve the state’s response as we move forward,” Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean said. “It’s our sincere hope that this bipartisan review will save lives and help New Jersey to recover with strength and resiliency.”

A Senate vote officially commissioning the panel is expected in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Republican lawmakers are continuing to question the COVID-19 deaths of long-term care residents.

Republican Sen. Joe Pennacchio said the Murphy administration ignored warnings published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late March. He thanked Kean and Senate President Steve Sweeny for forming the committee.

“I would hope the Senate would vote to form this committee, with subpoena powers, as soon as possible,” Pennacchio said.

Of the state’s 10,985 deaths, 4,665 were in long-term care facilities. Members of the Assembly Republican Caucus asked Speaker Craig Coughlin for an investigation.

The New Jersey Department of Health denied requests for information, leaving the caucus with no choice but to ask for the investigation, which would require subpoenas, the group said in a letter to Coughlin.

“Many of our constituents have complained administrators did not follow the law as the coronavirus outbreak worsened, initially failing to inform patients and families of residents testing positive for Covid-19,” the caucus members said in the letter. “However, the blame does not lie solely on a few nursing home operators. In fact, the facility with the most deaths in New Jersey is the state-run Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus, and the responsibility to ensure our state’s laws and protocols are enforced lies on the state Department of Health.”

New Jersey Heath Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the state first alerted its long-term care facilities about infection control on March 6, followed by an order to restrict visitation.

The facilities were told to readmit patients who tested positive for COVID-19, Persichilli said during a news conference.

“We did advise long term care facilities to readmit their residents if they had the appropriate PPE, the appropriate staffing and the ability to cohort, that is to separate COVID-19 patients from non-COVID-19 patients,” Persichilli said. “If the long-term care facility was not able to do that, they should not have readmitted.”

Attorney General Gubir Grewal is investigating but has not released any updates on his findings.

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