Plus: Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says New Jersey will develop a plan for testing in its homes for residents with developmental disabilities, and pharmacies will expand testing without a prescription.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 19, 2020
Another 1,055 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 149,013 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Tuesday.
Sadly, 162 more residents perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,586 lives lost during the pandemic.
Among those deaths is a 22-year-old, one of only 45 New Jersey residents aged 18 to 29 to have perished from complications related to the virus.
The youngest in the state to be claimed by COVID-19 was only four years old; 80 percent of deaths are among those 65 and older.
“It’s becoming an unusual reality when someone in that age range passes,” Murphy said.
COVID-19 cases are doubling at least every 30 days throughout all of New Jersey, save Cumberland County, which stands at a 27-day rate.
The statewide average of spot positivity testing has stood unchanged at 12 percent since May 14, and per capita regional hospitalizations continue to trend along comparable levels across North, Central, and South Jersey.
Throughout New Jersey, 3,481 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms. Of those 3,481 patients, 977 are in intensive or critical care; 789 of ICU and critical-care patients (80 percent) are on ventilators.
Both counts are below 1,000 for the first time since the beginning of April, noted New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli; Murphy called those data “perhaps the most vital data points we receive.”
In the past 24 hours, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 161 new COVID-19 patients and discharged 173 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
NJ revises fatalities connected with long-term care centers
Across New Jersey, 528 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 28,312 infected people statewide (19 percent of total cases).
That includes 19,454 residents and 8,858 staffers sickened by the virus, and 4,295 lab-confirmed deaths (40 percent of the statewide total).
On Tuesday, the governor offered a significant revision to the counts of deaths associated with LTCs, lowering them by 1,113 from yesterday’s reported total of 5,408 to 4,295.
That was done, he said, because reports at the beginning of the pandemic had erroneously counted deaths of LTC staffers among total resident deaths, as facilities self-report all cases associated with their sites.
Moving forward, Murphy said, officials will report only lab-confirmed LTC resident deaths, “as this will give us our best representation of what is happening in long-term care facilities in comparison with the statewide number that we report.
“There’s no question these folks are gone,” he said. “We were not reporting these apples-to-apples.”
Subsequent data revisions are likely to push counts up and not down over time, the governor said, noting that the statewide COVID-19-related deaths are all lab-confirmed cases.
Edward Lifshitz, Medical Director of the Communicable Disease Service at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, described the reporting issues as having been related to chaotic conditions at LTC sites dating back to the onset of the pandemic.
“We had a large number of facilities that got overwhelmed very quickly,” Lifshitz said, adding that the outbreaks “very quickly overwhelmed their ability to respond and the ability to report.”
With 528 facilities to track on an ongoing basis, “it’s difficult to get accurate information,” he said.
As a result, the state has provided more intuitive reporting mechanisms for LTC sites that should obviate the issues.
Of 658 veterans residing in a state-run home, 381 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 142 have died from complications related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 209 of 1,240 patients and 471 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Six staffers and 13 patients have died from complications related to the virus.
Forty-four patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 458 people in total.
On Tuesday, Persichilli also outlined the scope of tracking the spread of COVID-19 among New Jersey homes for those with developmental and behavioral issues. Throughout the state, there are 1,925 group homes for the developmentally disabled, and 481 group homes for those with mental health challenges, she said.
The commissioner said her office is working with the Department of Children and Families “to get an indication of how many facilities to visit.
“The magnitude of it is great,” Persichilli said. “But we will have a plan for them.”
She also noted Tuesday that 12 New Jersey children have been diagnosed with multisystem pediatric inflammatory syndrome, also described as Kawasaki Syndrome.
Aged 3 to 18, nine of them have tested positive for COVID-19 and were hospitalized; three remain hospitalized. Initially, Persichilli had said that 18 cases had been observed in nine counties throughout the state.
Motorcycle sales and mass testing availability
New Jersey’s 2,200 pharmacies and 18,000 pharmacists are now able to administer COVID-19 tests without a prescription, Murphy said, helping individuals to determine their status.
Rite Aid has offered free, self-administered tests across the state for a week or so; CVS will soon be doing so at some 50 locations in New Jersey next.
Anyone who learns they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested, even if they’re asymptomatic, Persichilli said.
She added that the state Department of Health will support cities like Elizabeth, Trenton, Camden, Patterson, and Newark to increase their testing via a variety of means, including mobile vans, drive-throughs, and walk-up centers.
Finally, New Jersey will open up in-person sales of cars, motorcycles, and bicycles as of 6 a.m. May 20, provided that facilities follow all sanitization and social distancing measures.
Murphy said the state will reopen as safely and as quickly as possible, but some workplaces “are really hard nuts to crack,” including those activities that occur indoors, are largely sedentary, lacking in ventilation, and with participants in close proximity to one another.
“I want to get a haircut as much as the next guy, but you’re in very close proximity, and you’re sitting there,” the governor said. “Retail has a leg up only because you’re moving.”
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