Even as case counts fall, health officials report more children are contracting the COVID-adjacent pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), and are being hospitalized for it.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 7, 2022
Another 1,490 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 1.843 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.
New Jersey is also reporting 224 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 288,822 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 29,050 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,937 probable COVID-19-related deaths—18 more than previously reported.
Since March 2020, 1,249 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents (more than one out of every 100) have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 330 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 12.238 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 20.95-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.52, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 6.76 percent February 7; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 9.22 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.52 on February 7.
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 in the past two years was 0.62, recorded June 9, 2020. On May 21, 2021, it reached a new low, of 0.59, a depth unmatched until its latest downturn in early February 2022.
COVID hospitalizations continue to fall
Throughout New Jersey, 1,910 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (50) or confirmed (1,860) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 360 are in intensive or critical care, and 239 of the ICU and critical-care patients (66 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 143 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 266 others were discharged.
“Overall, hospitalizations have dropped by one-third in the past week,” Murphy said. “A month ago, there were 5,700 people in the hospital, and we were four days from our omicron peak.”
LTC update: outbreaks slowing
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 2,357 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 562 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 83,553 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 4.5 percent of total cases.
That includes 46,080 residents and 37,473 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 9,099 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (31 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 149 staff deaths.
Of 614 veterans residing in three state-run homes, nine residents currently are positive for COVID-19, and 167 have died from complications related to the virus.
The facilities at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland are staffed by 1,368 workers, eight 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.
MISC cases continue to climb, school outbreaks slowing
To date, 182 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC)—seven 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, which is tied with Cumberland and Monmouth Counties for fourth-fewest 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 from 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, 465 reported outbreaks—three or more students or staff who contracted the virus within the school—have been logged, affecting 3,138 people, a mix of students and staff.
In Camden County, 50 COVID-19 outbreaks have accounted for the in-school infections of 393 people, which is the largest case count and second-largest outbreak count of any county in the state, and more than the county had sustained in the entire prior school year.
Vaccination update: NJ clears 6.6M fully vaccinated in-state
More than 13.531 million primary-series COVID-19 doses have been administered in New Jersey, with 6.435 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.
In Camden County, 716,799 doses have been administered, seventh-most in the state; 399,471 people have been fully vaccinated.
An estimated 552,281 vaccine doses have been administered to New Jersey residents outside of the state, of which 221,146 residents are estimated to have been fully vaccinated.
Vaccination sites in New Jersey have also administered 1.524 million Pfizer third/booster doses, 1.263 million additional Moderna doses, and 60,522 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.
NJ to lift mask mandate for schools, child care centers March 7
The most anticipated takeaway from Murphy’s briefing Monday was the announcement that New Jersey will roll back its masking mandate in schools and child care centers starting Monday, March 7.
The governor attributed the decision to declining infection levels and the expectation that COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children younger than five by early March.
Murphy noted that, although the mask mandate would be lifted, individual districts and businesses retain the authority to enact masking and other requirements as they see fit. The state Department of Health also will issue guidance on masking for school districts in the coming weeks.
“Masking continues to be an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID and should continue to be used in many circumstances,” Murphy said. “We are not removing the ability of individual district leaders to maintain and enforce such a policy in their schools, should community conditions require.”
Individuals who choose to continue masking may do so at their discretion, and schools must prevent any bullying of students who mask up, the governor added.
The masking announcement was accompanied by another note that the governor’s office will seek to extend the statewide public health emergency that has been effect since the outset of the pandemic for one final month before lifting it.
“We’re not going to manage COVID to zero,” Murphy said. “We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus.”
Notes on self-testing
As infection counts diminish, and New Jersey anticipates a reduced demand for its COVID-19 testing sites, the state and federal governments are providing at-home tests for individuals who may be uncertain of their status.
Persichilli said New Jersey has ordered 640,000 home test kits through Vault Health, which can be mailed to residents’ homes upon request.
These will be supplemented by others from the federal government, and are available at covidtest.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233.
The New Jersey Department of Health is also developing guidance for interpreting the results of those self-tests. The commissioner noted that, since the at-home test results may not be reported to health authorities, it’s up to the individual to self-isolate and notify their close contacts of a positive test result.
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