Plus: testing farm workers, and state epidemiologist Christina Tan runs down what health officials have learned about the virus since the pandemic hit New Jersey in early March 2020.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 16, 2020
Another 1,239 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 145,089 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Saturday.
Sadly, 115 more residents perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,249 lives lost during the pandemic
“That is a big number, but we cannot let those lost ever just become a statistic,” Murphy said.
“They were real people with real families, with incredible stories,” he said. “Now they, their lives, and their stories are part of our collective memory.”
COVID-19 cases are doubling at least every 30 days throughout most of New Jersey, including Camden County. The statewide average of spot positivity testing is at 22 percent as of May 12, and per capita regional hospitalizations are converging at comparable levels across North, Central, and South Jersey.
According to the state health dashboard, however, Camden County leads the state in new cases of COVID-19, with 127 on May 16.
Throughout New Jersey, 3,564 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Of those 3,564 patients, 1,061 are in intensive or critical care, and 846 (80 percent) are on ventilators.
In the past 24 hours, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 182 new COVID-19 patients and discharged 380 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
Across New Jersey, 527 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 27,825 infected people statewide (19 percent of total cases) and 5,322 deaths (52 percent).
Of 660 veterans residing in a state-run home, 378 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 140 have died from complications related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 202 of 1,240 patients have tested positive for COVID-19, and 13 people have died from complications related to the virus.
Forty-five patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 449 people in total.
Testing at NJ farms, FEMA aid for mental health services
Work continues to test migrant farm workers—who are already helping the Garden State bring in the 2020 spring crops—for COVID-19.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that 507 individuals at 11 farms have been tested so far, with 58 workers positive for the virus and isolated among the populations there.
The state health department is working over the weekend to provide COVID-19 safety guidance for farms on issues such as: the need for masks and social distancing while working, safe mass transportation of workers to job sites; and testing, separating, and housing workers to avoid the potential spread of the virus among people in close quarters.
“The role of the agricultural economy is vital in this state and depends on a strong workforce,” Persichilli said.
“As the growing season ramps up in New Jersey, this collaborative effort is imperative to help protect the thousands of seasonal farm workers and the farming community, who are critical to sustaining that economy,” she said.
The New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) also received $2.8 million in federal funding to expand access to behavioral health services, including counseling, tele-mental health, and other treatments.
In a statement from DHS, the agency said $2 million will go to Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, which will coordinate “treatment, supports, and referrals to treatment,” most of which will be delivered virtually for as many as 2,500 New Jersey residents.
The remaining $882,035 will fund the NJ Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program, with services delivered by Catholic Charities, Family Services Bureau of Newark, and the Mental Health Association in New Jersey. The money will pay for training more counselors, public health education, and extra access to resources.
Free access to the NJMentalHealthCares helpline is available daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 1-866-202-HELP (4357), with live, confidential support from trained specialists.
Crime stats, compliance, and crowds
With early reports of beaches and boardwalks experiencing heavy foot traffic ahead of the Memorial Day weekend—the governor will also reopen charter fishing and watercraft rentals tomorrow—Murphy was asked about the role of those civilian outreach workers and law enforcement officers tasked with managing crowds under a social distancing order.
He acknowledged that most of the crowd would comprise people looking to let off steam and leave their homes, and urged everyone to practice patience and respect.
“It’s going to be an unusual appetite to get to the beach and to get outside,” the governor said.
“You’ve got people in an unusual circumstance.
“If you’re trying to get your unemployment insurance, if you’re trying to get to the beach, if you’re trying to be in a park, going to an essential retail, we’ve got to all be mindful of each other right now,” Murphy said.
New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan echoed the governor’s remarks, reminding residents that police are trained in “lots of de-escalation techniques.
“I can only just ask for people to try to have patience, one, with one another, and certainly with law enforcement, as we try to work through some obviously unprecedented challenges that are facing each and every one of us.”
Callahan also noted that during the pandemic, crime is down “across the board” in New Jersey. Among the highlights, he noted that arrests are down 65 percent (likely a function of police issuing more summonses), domestic violence reports are down 16 percent (amid fears of under-reporting), and although shootings are down 19 percent, shooting murders are up 9 percent year-over-year.
“Sometimes it’s just where that bullet lands,” Callahan said. “If the shootings are down and the victims are up, it points to where they’re being struck and that they end up being fatal.”
What we have learned?
Finally, state epidemiologist Christina Tan offered a recap of what healthcare workers now know about COVID-19 after two months of the pandemic having hit New Jersey.
Tan offered a number of details, including the variety of ways in which the virus manifests symptomatically “aside from the typical flu presentation.”
Signs may include a loss of smell and taste (anosmia) as well as the more recently observed multisystem inflammatory response among pediatric populations.
Officials are learning more about how underlying conditions, including severe illnesses and chronic concerns, can cause the virus to more significantly affect individuals of any age group, Tan said.
They’re also picking up on how COVID-19 is transmitted, and what that means for those who live in close quarters, who gather in large groups, and the potential for occupational exposures that can increase risks as well.
Finally, she said COVID-19 researchers are studying therapeutic approaches for resolving the virus, including the development of vaccines, convalescent plasma, and antiviral pharmaceuticals as well.
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