Plus: two more children test positive for pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and New Jersey cuts HIV funding by 10 percent amid medication reimbursement shortfalls.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 26, 2020
Another 524 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 170,584 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.
Sadly, 44 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 13,060 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state also recognizes another 1,854 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Throughout New Jersey, 1,118 people are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19, or while awaiting confirmation of their symptoms. Among those patients, 234 are in intensive or critical care, and 206 of ICU and critical-care patients (88 percent) are on ventilators.
Overnight, 71 New Jersey hospitals admitted 59 new COVID-19 patients, and 114 others were discharged, either to a lower-acuity care setting or to their homes.
Rate of transmission (Rt) down slightly overnight
Rt, or the estimated rate of transmission of new cases of the virus, was 0.86 percent on June 24.
That figure indicates that every person infected with COVID-19 is infecting less than one other person, on average. However, it remains up significantly from a low of 0.62 recorded on June 9.
Over the past week Rt has increased in 16 New Jersey counties, with six counties recording rates of transmission at least 50 percent greater than they had been a week ago, Murphy said Thursday.
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 2.1 percent June 22; in South Jersey, it’s almost double, at 3.83 percent.
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 a patient actively has the virus.
Long-term care accounts for almost half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected
Across New Jersey, 557 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and account for 36,316 infected patients and staff, or 21 percent of total cases.
That includes 24,058 residents and 12,258 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 6,331 lab-confirmed resident deaths (48 percent of the statewide total) and 133 facility-reported staff deaths.
Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 386 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Nine veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 235 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 211 of 1,237 patients and 498 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven staffers and 13 patients have died from complications related to the virus.
Eight patients are presently receiving care at one of the state’s field medical stations, which have served 491 people in total.
To date, 47 New Jersey children, aged 1 to 18, have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said, for a total of three new cases this week.
All have tested positive for an active COVID-19 infection or the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, indicating exposure to the virus. Five children are still currently hospitalized. No deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.
Guidance issued for 2020-2021 school year
“Our public schools will be open for in-person instruction and operations in some capacity with the health of students, their families, and educators being the top priority,” the governor said of the upcoming school year.
Murphy also acknowledged that the state-issued guidance is flexible, and will be subject to changes on an individual district basis, citing the local control for which New Jersey is known.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach that we can possibly take,” he said.
“Our state has 577 public school districts, not to mention our charter and renaissance schools, non-public and parochial schools, and other specialized places of learning,” the governor said.
“We must take into account the many geographic, demographic, and economic differences which exist among our schools and education communities, which can each vary greatly, even among neighbors,” he said.
Policies were shaped with four main goals, Murphy said:
- ensuring a conducive and learning atmosphere
- supporting educational leaders with planning
- providing policy guidance and necessary funding to schools
- securing the continuity of learning
“Social distancing will be our guiding principle,” the governor said.
Schools should do everything they can to keep kids apart from one another, including limiting class sizes, putting barriers between desks as needed, and potentially rearranging schedules to cohort students, or to create hybrid in-person and remote learning environments. Districts should also be prepared to go fully remote at any time if public health demands it.
All faculty, staff, and visitors should wear face coverings, and students are strongly encouraged to do so, especially when in close proximity to one another.
Custodial staff will be tasked to uphold daily sanitization and disinfection protocols that “will go far beyond the restrooms, cafeterias, and common areas, but also into each and every classroom, every gym and every locker or changing room,” Murphy said.
Transportation providers will be held to a similar standard, and drivers will be asked to ensure that students wear face coverings, the governor said.
Schools will also have access to a pool of COVID funding from the CARES Act to pay for a broad range of funds, including summer learning, educational technology, and cleaning supplies. New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet said more than 600 districts have applied for and been approved for those funds, and that the first checks will be cut next week.
New Jersey to cut HIV programs by 10 percent
Amid the shortfalls in state and federal funding brought on by the pandemic, New Jersey will cut dollars to state HIV programs by 10 percent, Persichilli said.
The commissioner attributed those cuts to funding shortfalls in the state medication rebate program, and said they were made foremost “to programs that were no longer considered best practices,” while “protecting housing, testing, and access to PrEP,” a drug that inhibits the passage of the virus between sexual partners.
Throughout New Jersey, 65,000 rapid-response HIV tests were administered last year, and 38,000 residents are living with HIV, down 26 percent from 2008-2018, Persichilli said.
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