Plus: New Jersey enters a second week of vaccination and boosting events, in-hospital deaths remain in double-digits, and masking heads towards a situational, discretionary strategy.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 23, 2022
Another 1,058 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 1.867 million cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday, as new infection counts continue to recede from their January peak.
Wednesday’s briefing represented the penultimate pandemic press conference, Murphy said, citing “the need to move forward” from a pandemic to an endemic statewide response to the virus, as new infections dwindle amid a shrinking transmission rate.
The governor said New Jersey would hold it final regular state COVID-19 briefing next Friday, March 4, coinciding with the two-year anniversary of first recorded case of COVID-19 in the state. Barring “a material and meaningful deterioration” of conditions in the state, officials won’t reconvene for another.
Murphy also reported 252 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 293,822 positive antigen tests.
Antigen tests have a faster turnaround time than PCR tests—sometime within 15 to 30 minutes—but are less reliable at detecting active infection of the virus, and more capable of reporting false positives.
Sadly, 15 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 29,840 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,960 probable COVID-19-related deaths—23 more than previously reported.
Since March 2020, 1,281 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents (more than one out of every 100) have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 335 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 17.320 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 21.22-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.69, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 4.65 percent February 23; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 5.38 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, held at 0.69 February 22 and 23.
An Rt figure of less than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting less than one other person, on average, and the spread of the virus is decreasing.
Since its mid-April-2020 pandemic-high spike, the highest reported Rt in New Jersey was 1.77, recorded January 3, 2022. Prior to artificially low, adjusted reports of 0.34 in the first week of May 2021, the lowest rate of transmission in the past two years was 0.62, recorded June 9, 2020. On May 21, 2021, it reached a new low, of 0.59l a depth unmatched until it hit 0.57 February 17, 2022.
COVID hospitalizations continue to fall
Throughout New Jersey, 975 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (26) or confirmed (949) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
That’s the first time since November 28, 2021, that hospitalizations have retreated below 1,000 patients, almost a three-month window.
Among those hospitalized patients, 168 are in intensive or critical care, and 109 of the ICU and critical-care patients (65 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 106 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 140 others were discharged.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that COVID-19-related deaths of hospitalized people in New Jersey are decreasing, but still in double digits, and are primarily of unvaccinated people. The commissioner noted that 35 percent of those deaths are of people who did not receive a vaccine booster.
“The booster significantly lowers your risk of hospitalization and death,” Persichilli said, urging residents to complete their vaccination series.
LTC update: outbreaks still a consideration
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 2,362 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 472 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 84,628 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 4.5 percent of total cases.
That includes 46,762 residents and 37,866 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 9,249 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (30 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 149 staff deaths.
Of 607 veterans residing in three state-run homes, nine residents currently are positive for COVID-19, and 169 have died from complications related to the virus—two more than previously reported.
The facilities at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland are staffed by 1,370 workers, four of whom are presently COVID-19-positive. The facilities have sustained two staff deaths related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric hospitals, 30 of 1,128 patients and 60 of 1,136 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 14 patients and eight staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
More MISC cases, school outbreaks slowing as end of mask mandate approaches
To date, 186 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC)—two more than previously reported. Five of them are presently hospitalized.
One child has died from complications related to the syndrome in New Jersey. Five MISC cases have been reported in Camden County, sixth-fewest among all counties in the state.
All those pediatric patients have tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection or the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus.
Symptoms of MISC include an ongoing fever, bloodshot eyes, stomach pain, skin rash, vomiting, and confusion, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said, advising parents to contact their child’s doctor or clinic right away if their child displays any such signs.
New Jersey has sustained four COVID-associated child deaths, including those of three infants, since Christmas, Persichilli said, adding that none of those children had significant underlying conditions that could have compromised their immune response to the virus.
Overall, the state has lost 12 children of COVID-related causes throughout the pandemic; eight of them have been younger than four, and four others were aged five to 17.
From August 1, 2020 through the end of the 2020-2021 school year, 293 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 1,385 individual cases were traced to in-school activities in all 21 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 18 outbreaks were linked to 78 in-school cases, sixth-most in the state.
Since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, 507 reported outbreaks—three or more students or staff who contracted the virus within the school—have been logged, affecting 3,450 people, a mix of students and staff.
In Camden County, 53 COVID-19 outbreaks have accounted for the in-school infections of 412 people, which is the largest case count and second-largest outbreak count of any county in the state, and more than the county sustained in the entire prior school year.
Vaccination update: NJ clears 6.7M fully vaccinated people
More than 13.616 million primary-series COVID-19 doses have been administered in New Jersey, with 6.485 million people having been fully vaccinated in-state, having received either a one-shot formulation from Johnson and Johnson or both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
More than 76 percent of the state population that is eligible for vaccination has completed its full vaccination series, and 50 percent of those eligible for boosters have gotten them. Ninety percent of the vaccine-eligible population of the state has received at least one dose.
New Jersey will host 150 vaccination events statewide to help drive vaccine and booster uptake through “Boost NJ 2 Week.” Persichilli noted that additional doses are available for the immunocompromised should their physicians advise it.
In Camden County, 716,799 doses have been administered, seventh-most in the state; 399,471 people have been fully vaccinated.
An estimated 560,724 vaccine doses have been administered to New Jersey residents outside of the state, of which 224,033 residents are estimated to have been fully vaccinated.
Vaccination sites in New Jersey have also administered 1.558 million Pfizer third/booster doses, 1.311 million additional Moderna doses, and 63,658 additional Johnson and Johnson doses.
The first vaccines in the state were administered December 15, 2020; by February 8—55 days later—New Jersey had immunized its millionth resident. Twenty days thereafter, that count hit 2 million, and 3 million within two more weeks.
On March 29, New Jersey crossed the 4-million-dose threshold, and the state cleared 5 million doses over the weekend of April 10, 2021. Eight days after that, New Jersey hit the 6-million-dose mark. By May 3, 2021, the state had cleared 7 million doses administered, and two weeks later, it had surpassed 8 million doses.
As of June 2, 2021, the state had cleared 9 million administered doses and 4 million fully vaccinated New Jerseyans, and on June 18, hit 4.7 million vaccinated individuals, its target goal for 70 percent of the adult population of the state.
By mid-July, that number had increased to 5.019 million people fully vaccinated at New Jersey vaccination sites. At the end of August 2021, the state had exceeded 11 million doses administered and had begun approaching 6 million fully vaccinated residents.
It took until mid-October 2021 to clear the 12-millionth vaccine dose administered, at a time when some residents began receiving booster doses or third doses. By late October, New Jersey finally reached an estimated 6 million fully immunized residents, nearly three months after having crossed the 5-million-resident threshold.
Masking to become situational, discretionary in many circumstances
As New Jersey plans to relax its universal mask-wearing mandate in public schools and childcare centers March 7, officials noted that masks remain an effective mitigation strategy as needed.
“We do recommend a turn to universal school-wide masking when conditions call for it,” Murphy said, including during periods of elevated community transmission, active local outbreaks, or when students fall ill.
As school districts and childcare centers consider dropping their mask mandates, Persichilli urged them to do so in consideration of complementary factors, including their ability to maintain physical distancing, to screen students, to perform contact tracing, to isolate exposed children and staff, and to provide adequate ventilation.
She also asked that both entities consider the vaccination rates among their populations, and “make masking decisions based on their individual circumstances,” adding that people should consider masking if they’re immunocompromised or live with someone who is.
Despite the state mandate retiring March 7, children two and older must still wear masks when on school buses, which is a statute codified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Federal masking mandates are still in effect in many mass transit environments, including on planes, trains, and buses.
Murphy said the state will review its own policies for masking in state buildings “in the relatively near future.
“We’re pretty much getting back to where we want to be, which is normal,” the governor said.
Later, he added, “It’s not saying we’ve defeated this thing, it’s saying we can responsibly live in its midst.”
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