Health officials are working to gather baseline data for COVID-19 positivity rates among some of the most vulnerable populations in New Jersey to accelerate its reopening.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 27, 2020
Another 970 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 156,628 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
Sadly, 148 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 11,339 lives lost during the pandemic.
Throughout New Jersey, 2,761 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.
Of those 2,761 patients, 768 are in intensive or critical care; 583 of ICU and critical-care patients (76 percent) are on ventilators.
In the past 24 hours, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 164 new COVID-19 patients and discharged 241 others, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
Across New Jersey, 536 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 31,099 infected patients and staff, or 19 percent of total cases.
That includes 21,081 residents and 10,018 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 4,871 lab-confirmed resident deaths (43 percent of the statewide total) and 104 facility-reported staff deaths.
Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 384 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 144 have died from complications related to the virus. Twelve veterans are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 113 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 211 of 1,235 patients and 483 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven staffers and 13 patients have died from complications related to the virus.
Sixteen patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 467 people in total.
Twenty-six New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with multisystem pediatric inflammatory syndrome, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. Of those 26 pediatric patients, 18 have tested positive for COVID-19; all were hospitalized, and 12 have been discharged.
COVID-19 cases are doubling at least every 30 days throughout all of New Jersey, save Salem County, which stands at a 24-day doubling rate. The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 7 percent May 23.
Spot positivity is a snapshot statistic, and the state’s report excludes serology tests, which can confirm the presence of COVID-19 antibodies but not whether the patient actively has the virus.
In Wednesday’s briefing, Murphy again emphasized the critical role of testing even asymptomatic residents in the path to more broadly reopening the state.
“The more people get tested, the stronger our data becomes, and the stronger our confidence becomes that we can take the next steps in responsibly restarting our economy and getting our recovery underway,” the governor said.
“Testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine is the end-to-end process needed to contain this virus,” Persichilli added.
The commissioner also described testing efforts that are already underway to establish baseline data among vulnerable and essential populations throughout the state. In Camden County, one-third of COVID-19 infections are healthcare workers, frontline employees, and residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities.
All long-term care sites in New Jersey have attested to the state Health Department that they are implementing plans to systematically test staff and residents, and 86 percent have started reporting baseline data, the commissioner said. To support those efforts, the state has already distributed 97,000 COVID-19 test kits to LTCs and 85,000 more are going out this week, she said.
Thus far, 67 percent of LTC residents in New Jersey have been tested, returning a positivity rate of 8 to 9 percent, Persichilli said. Only 27 percent of LTC staff has been tested, yielding a 3-to-4-percent positivity rate.
In New Jersey psychiatric residential centers, 211 of 1,235 patients (17 percent) and 453 of 792 staffers (57 percent) tested positive for the virus, Persichilli said.
All 1,600 residents of New Jersey veterans homes have been tested, and the state Department of Corrections, which has just begun testing, has so far found a 19 percent positivity rate among 8,700 tests conducted (1,653 people).
Finally, New Jersey’s federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) have helped test some 19,000 residents “in urban areas” throughout the state, the commissioner said.
The end-to-end policy of testing, contact tracing, and capacity for isolating the infected that has been built since the earliest days of the pandemic “makes America far better equipped to deal with a second wave” of the virus, Murphy said, citing an opinion from U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
“Even if we bat 1,000 on opening the state responsibly, we’re going to have flare-ups, and we’re preparing for that,” the governor said.
Asked how quickly officials could track a potential, future spike of COVID-19, state epidemiologist Christina Tan said one could be observable within five days to two weeks of an incident. That timeframe helps inform the state’s “gradual reopening effort,” which involves monitoring such trends, she said.
Finally, Murphy said that additional guidance on reopening fitness centers, houses of worship, and plans for summer activities and childcare would be forthcoming.
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