Coronavirus Update: 200,988 Infections, 14,291 Related Deaths; Murphy Promises School Reporting as First Related Infections Recorded

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Plus: the NJ Department of Health field tests its COVID-19 app on college campuses, and why antigen tests alone won’t be recommended for long-term care settings.

By Matt Skoufalos | September 23, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 9-23-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Another 430 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 200,988 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.

That total excludes 50 previously reported positive test results from Monday, which Murphy said were removed from the count because they were duplicate results or those of out-of-state residents.

Sadly, seven more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,291 lives lost during the pandemic.

All seven deaths occurred within the past week, the governor said.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,791 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

On average, 264 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 162 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 3 million people have been tested for the virus statewide, with a 2.28-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.15, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.93 percent September 19; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 2.06 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.15 from samples taken September 21.

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 9-23-20

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

Throughout New Jersey, 459 people currently are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 231 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 228 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.

Among those hospitalized patients, 90 are in intensive or critical care, and 31 of the ICU and critical-care patients (34 percent) are on ventilators.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that fewer hospitalized patients are on ventilators because healthcare workers are using antiviral therapeutics and steroids earlier in treatment, along with high-flow oxygen therapies and proning patients to take tension off their hearts and lungs.

Across the state, 709 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and 159 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 38,592 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 20 percent of total cases.

That includes 25,046 residents and 13,546 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,142 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (50 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 121 staff deaths.

Of 656 veterans residing in a state-run home, 389 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Five veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 243 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 214 of 1,196 patients and 519 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.

To date, 57 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, Persichilli said.

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, although several children have been hospitalized during their treatment.

Camden County College COVID-19 Test Center. Credit: Camden County.

NJDOH almost done beta-testing COVID-19 app

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) will wrap pilot testing of its COVID-19 exposure notification mobile app among 130 beta users on the campuses at Montclair State University, Passaic County Community College, and Richard Stockton University, Persichilli said Wednesday.

The app communicates with users through Bluetooth, anonymously detecting and logging mobile devices that come within six feet of the user for 10 minutes or longer. Persichilli said the app doesn’t rely on location data or collect personal information to perform these tasks. It also offers statewide health data and symptom tracking.

“You may not even know that you’ve been exposed, but the app will tell you,” the commissioner said.

Quelling COVID-19 outbreaks on college campuses remains a challenge for health officials, particularly in Glassboro, where Rowan University has logged 363 infections since August 25. Those figures are contributing to what Persichilli described as a higher-than-statewide-average percent positivity throughout Gloucester County, with the biggest outbreak among students residing in off-campus housing there.

NJDOH is also beginning to get reports of COVID-19 infections among students attending public schools; the agency is working to “identify, isolate, and mitigate” those infections “as soon as possible,” Persichilli said, adding, “This virus is still with us.”

File photo: Mark Newbie Elementary School. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

NJ to develop COVID-19 reporting system for in-school infections

Although it doesn’t yet have one, Murphy said the state will devise a reporting structure for in-school COVID-19 infections.

Thus far, the governor said most sports teams that have seen infections among their members can trace them to team activities outside of practices and competitions.

New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said that it’s generally difficult “to necessarily pinpoint where a person might’ve become infected” because of the community spread of the virus.

For those reasons, “while we can make associations sometime between a contact and a particular case, the vast majority of our cases, you’ll never know what the actual source is,” Tan said.

Nonetheless, Persichilli said she’s hoping the NJDOH contact tracing dashboard will become more robust to collect data on the “how” of infections.

Finally, the commissioner spoke last week of the importance of point-of-care rapid flu and COVID testing as the country heads into flu season. However, those rapid COVID-19 antigen tests have a lower accuracy rate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are the standard for New Jersey data collection.

Persichilli said her office is “working to develop a directive” for long-term care centers about how to follow up an antigen test with a PCR test to mitigate the potential impacts of false positives.

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

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