Coronavirus Update: 188,817 Infected, 14,112 Related Deaths; Murphy on Contact Tracers: “Please Folks, Take the Damn Call”


More than half of all people called by a contact tracer don’t share information that would help notify others of their potential exposure risk, and nearly 20 percent don’t answer the phone at all.

By Matt Skoufalos | August 21, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 8-21-20. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 313 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 188,817 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.

Sadly, 13 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,112 lives lost during the pandemic.

Ten of those deaths have occurred within the past five days, Murphy said.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,829 probable COVID-19-related deaths, revised down by 10 from prior counts.

Rate of transmission (Rt) ticks down to 1.04, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.42 percent August 17; regionally, it remains highest in South Jersey, at 2.88 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.04 from samples taken August 19.

An Rt figure greater than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting more than one other person, on average, and the spread of the virus is increasing.

Since its mid-April COVID-19 spike, the highest reported RT in New Jersey was 1.48, recorded August 1. The lowest was 0.62, recorded June 9.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID-19 Briefing 8-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Long-term care accounts for half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected

Throughout New Jersey, 414 people currently are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 221 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 193 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.

Among those hospitalized patients, 61 are in intensive or critical care, and 30 of the ICU and critical-care patients (50 percent) are on ventilators.

Across the state, 635 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and 196 are dealing with an active outbreak.

LTCs account for 37,798 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 20 percent of total cases.

That includes 24,674 residents and 13,124 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,043 lab-confirmed resident deaths (50 percent of the statewide total) and 120 facility-reported staff deaths.

Of 654 veterans residing in a state-run home, 388 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Six veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 242 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 213 of 1,200 patients and 515 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.

To date, 55 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. There have been no new cases in more than two weeks.

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. No deaths have been associated with this syndrome in New Jersey.

Get Tested, Take the Call Public Health Campaign. Credit: NJDOH.

Contact tracers struggle to connect

This week, New Jersey added another 83 contact tracers to its statewide total of 1,612, Murphy said.

To reach its planned, end-of-year ratio of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents (2,640), the state will need to hire another 1,028 people.

Contact tracers are following up with 73 percent of all positive test results, reaching 44 percent of people within 24 hours. However, 52 percent of those called by a contact tracer are refusing to provide additional contacts, and 19 percent don’t answer the phone, which Murphy described as “highly disturbing, to say the very least.

“Please folks, take the damn call,” the governor said. “Work with them. Consider it another piece of personal responsibility we must take to defeat the virus.”

Health officials reaffirmed that contact tracers will leave a voicemail if the phone goes unanswered, will identify themselves as working for the health department, and will not ask for personal information. They can offer access to supports, including safe housing, food, and other social services, Persichilli said.

Vulnerable population testing results

Across New Jersey, more than 2.6 million COVID-19 tests have been administered to date—almost 25,000 daily, Persichilli said.

The commissioner also offered an update on testing results among vulnerable New Jersey populations:

  • In long-term care centers, staff have been tested 587,000 times with a 1-percent positivity rate, and residents have been tested 355,000 times with a 2-percent positivity rate.
  • In facilities and group homes serving developmentally disabled persons, 23,000 tests have been run, resulting in a 2-percent positivity rate.
  • In psychiatric facilities, 6,000 patient tests have been run with a 10-percent positivity rate.
  • New Jersey veterans home residents have been tested 21,000 times for a 3-percent positivity rate.
  • Correctional facilities have run 154,000 tests of inmates, staff, and vendors in three phases; Persichilli did not offer information about the results of those tests.
  • At New Jersey federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), 90,000 tests of uninsured, underinsured, and homeless people and seasonal workers resulted in a 9-percent positivity rate.
  • At homeless shelters, none of 324 people tested were positive for the virus.


The state is set to begin pilot testing residents of senior housing and urban centers in Atlantic City, Camden City, Elizabeth, Newark, Trenton, and Paterson, Persichilli said.

New Jersey’s PPE Strategic Stockpile – 8-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

PPE stockpile growing

New Jersey continues to bolster its statewide strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), Murphy said Friday.

The inventory includes:

  • 4.7 million of a targeted 5 million N95 masks
  • 1 million of a targeted 13 million surgical masks, with 12 million on order
  • 1.7 million of a targeted 2 million face shields
  • 2.1 million of a targeted 2.8 million hospital gowns, with 1 million on order
  • 1.9 million of a targeted 110 million gloves, with 75 million on order


New Jersey has stockpiled 1,447 ventilators with another 500 on order, and 600 ventilators are currently deployed across its 71 hospitals statewide.

There are also 1,115 cases of the antiviral drug Remdesivir in its inventory; 148 cases, or 6,000 doses, will be donated to patients across 10 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the governor said Friday.

“Building this stockpile is how we’ve been working to protect against the next wave, or the next pandemic, as we continue to fight this one,” Murphy said. “We will not be caught unprepared.”

New Jersey Homeland Security Director Jared Maples noted that the stockpile is only for emergency use, and to stave off any unforeseen supply-chain challenges. Hospitals will be required to hold a 90-day PPE stockpile, long-term care sites will be required to have a 30-60-day supply, and the state will maintain its own three-month PPE stockpile across its Offices of Emergency Management.

“The goal is to be further prepared for any potential fall or winter surge in the short term, and to strengthen our preparedness posture in the long-term, again, for the foreseeable future,” Maples said.

Moratorium on utility shut-offs extended until October 15. Credit: NJ Pen.

Utility shutoffs, delayed until October 15, Chromebooks on back order

New Jersey public utility companies will extend the pandemic-related moratorium on shutoffs for non-payment until October 15, and will offer deferred payment agreements of 12 to 24 months to those who require them.

Finally, officials reported a delay in getting Chromebooks to children who need them for remote learning.

With districts across the country switching to distance-learning setups, the six manufacturers who produce the low-cost computers are backordered. Nationally, Murphy said he believes the supply-demand imbalance is four-to-one.

In New Jersey, the Paterson public school system itself is waiting on 13,000 Chromebooks for its students.

Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.

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