Officials ask residents to take individual responsibility to adhere to social distancing, masking, and gathering guidelines to avoid spread. Plus: overtaxed hospital workers report PTSD as cases mount.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 18, 2020
Another 4,063 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 289,562 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
Sadly, 27 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,843 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,812 probable COVID-19-related deaths, 11 more than in previous totals.
Since March, 446 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 169 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 5.46 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 3.29-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.43, spot positivity higher in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 10.88 percent November 14; in South Jersey, it was higher, at 12.16 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.43 from samples taken November 16.
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.
Hospitalizations continue to climb
Throughout New Jersey, 2,446 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (250) or confirmed (2,196) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 461 were in intensive or critical care, and 223 of the ICU and critical-care patients (48 percent) are on ventilators.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 936 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 263 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 41,155 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 14 percent of total cases.
That includes 26,213 residents and 14,942 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,263 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (49 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 121 staff deaths.
Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 401 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Four veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 250 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 257 of 1,172 patients and 596 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 61 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy 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.
Since August 1, 56 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 239 individual cases have been traced to schools in 18 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, nine outbreaks have been linked to 54 cases. That’s the most in the state.
NEW: @NYGovCuomo, @GovernorTomWolf, @JohnCarneyDE, @GovNedLamont, @GovRaimondo, @MassGovernor, and I are urging ALL colleges/universities to make #COVID19 testing available to all residential students before they leave for Thanksgiving break.
We must slow the spread. pic.twitter.com/k7do7dObLF
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 18, 2020
Officials advise quarantining around Thanksgiving holiday
As college students start to make their way home from school for the Thanksgiving break, health officials are asking them to quarantine before returning home to decrease the chances of spreading the virus among family members.
Those who don’t complete a full, two-week quarantine before coming home are urged to do so while at home, staying away from the other members of their household, and observing all other preventive measures (masking, social distancing) in the process, particularly in households with high-risk family members.
Anyone with symptoms or a positive test should avoid traveling home, if possible, Persichilli said.
A regional coalition of the state governors of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island is asking colleges and universities to make COVID-19 testing available to residential students before they leave for Thanksgiving break and when they return. They’re also urging schools to support student quarantines on both sides of the holiday.
By executive order, New Jersey residents are prohibited from hosting or attending indoor gatherings of more than 10 people for the foreseeable future.
Around the holidays, those rules become more difficult to enforce, but “we’re relying on families to take that responsibility very seriously,” said New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan.
“The guidance comes from the Office of the Attorney General, not me as the colonel,” Callahan said in Wednesday’s briefing. “No law enforcement in the past 100 years has been asked to take this type of enforcement role on in their own communities,” he said, adding that enforcing those rules in residences presents “different challenges” from policing public establishments.
Callahan wasn’t the only government official who noted that it can’t fall to law enforcement to manage the pandemic. Rather than pushing for statewide lockdowns, local leaders are working to enact layered, community-specific strategies to stop the spread of the pandemic in their municipalities, said New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan.
“We have to shift the focus to community mitigation,” Tan said. “That’s what really contributes to flattening that curve when you have widespread activity.”
Above all else, individuals who comply with safeguards more frequently will help keep their friends, relatives, and neighbors alive, Persichilli said.
“If individuals upheld all of the safeguarding 50 percent of the time, we would be successful,” she said. “The average is 31 percent of the time; [in the spring] everybody in New Jersey did a much better job than average.
“They saved lives by their own personal responsibility,” Persichilli said. “If they do that again, we won’t reach March and April [levels]. But it is personal responsibility.”
Hospital capacity okay, but COVID fatigue hitting staff
Persichilli said New Jersey hospitals still have significant capacity to house COVID-19 patients, but some still are diverting new patients due to patient volumes of all kinds.
Meanwhile, she also warned of COVID fatigue affecting those who are tasked with caring for them. The Health Professionals and Allied Employees health care labor union fielded a complaint from Virtua Health System staffers alleging that nurses who test positive for the virus but who are asymptomatic are being asked to return to work. Persichilli said the state is investigating.
Finally, she also noted that healthcare workers of every stripe are struggling with trauma related to the pandemic as new cases continue to mount.
“PTSD is real, and it’s not only nurses,” Persichilli said. “Everyone that worked in the hospital during March and April is having some issues with the anxiety related to what they went through.”
Some health systems are offering counseling and trauma support for those individuals who are battling COVID-related PTSD, Persichilli said.
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