Coronavirus Update: 435,763 Infections, 16,315 Related Deaths; NJDOH Outlines Vaccination Plan for Vulnerable Populations


Health Commissioner Persichilli said 250,000 doses are needed to vaccinate the most at-risk residents in the state. Gov. Murphy claims New Jersey has the highest density of long-term care residents in the country.

By Matt Skoufalos | December 21, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 12-21-20. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 3,186 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 435,763 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

In eight of the past 21 days, more than 5,000 new cases have been recorded daily, and six of those eight days came in the two weeks after Thanksgiving, he said.

In the two weeks before Thanksgiving, the state was averaging 4,000 new cases a day; thus far in December, those new infections are up 20 percent, to 4,800 per day, on average, the governor said.

Sadly, 29 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 16,315 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,908 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Since March, 514 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 185 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

Nearly 7.3 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 4.92-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) down to 0.99, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 10.78 percent December 17; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 14.17 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.99 from samples taken December 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.

Simulated COVID-19 patient in a hospital bed. Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash.

Hospitalizations up 25 percent, ICU beds up 30 percent since Thanksgiving

Throughout New Jersey, 3,607 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (236) or confirmed (3,371) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 727 were in intensive or critical care, and 481 of the ICU and critical-care patients (66 percent) are on ventilators.

Across New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals yesterday, 376 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, while 306 others were discharged.

New COVID-19 infections in New Jersey continue to climb in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, Murphy said: hospitalizations are up 25 percent, ICU bed usage is up 30 percent, and ventilator usage more than either of them since Thanksgiving.

The governor urged residents to host “a small Christmas with those in our immediate family bubble” and to ring in the new year “with only those in our own household.”

“If we can do this and push ourselves through our pandemic fatigue and into 2021, when our vaccine program will begin taking off, hopefully by this time next year we can begin to plan for the big get-togethers,” he said.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,124 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 414 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 46,823 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or nearly 11 percent of total cases.

That includes 28,753 residents and 18,070 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,437 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (46 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 124 staff deaths.

Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 423 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 147 have died from complications related to the virus. Six veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 262 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 271 of 1,130 patients and 721 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.

To date, 66 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome — one more than previously reported.

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, 98 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 428 individual cases have been traced to schools in 19 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 13 outbreaks have been linked to 66 cases, second-most in the state.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID-19 Briefing 12-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

NJ lays groundwork for LTC vaccinations

As the earliest doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from pharmaceutical manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna make their way into New Jersey, Persichilli outlined the state plan for vaccinating the staff and residents of its long-term care, assisted living, and developmental facilities and group homes.

In total, that plan amounts to some 250,000 vaccine doses; two apiece for 125,000 individuals, the health commissioner said.

The breakdown Persichilli offered will cover:


  • 4,300 staff and 1,250 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities in five state developmental centers
  • 7,600 individuals in 650 group homes and other long-term residential facilities
  • 21,600 seniors in federal housing and urban development residences
  • 2,440 elderly residents in continuing care and retirement communities


Those vaccinations will be undertaken in addition to the “91,700 residents and 90,000 employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, 9,300 residents in developmental facilities, 26,000 in HUD senior housing, and thousands of others,” she said.

“All of these individuals are at high-risk,” Persichilli said, promising “the vaccinations will be rolled out in an orderly manner” at patient residences, but that it will take time to do so, particularly in the wake of the reduced allocations the state faces from the federal government.

New Jersey reserved 492,075 doses of the Moderna vaccine for its LTC sites, and is now expecting to receive only 392,800 of them; a 20-percent reduction. Similarly, its orders of Pfizer doses were cut 33 percent, from 273,375 to 183,300 doses, according to figures in Tiberius, the U.S. Department of Defense-built logistical platform for the vaccine distribution.

Little is known about the reasons behind the shortfall; New Jersey officials “had guidance from the feds” but not “a specific shipment number,” the governor said.

Not much more is known about the federal process for allocation of the vaccine doses. AI tech watcher VentureBeat outlined some of the concerns around equity that could be baked into the Tiberius algorithm. Simply put: throughout the pandemic, the weighted impact of COVID-19 on black and brown communities has been well documented, and could be compounded by disproportionate prioritization of vaccine shipments.

In order to participate in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care vaccinations program, states were required to reserve 50 percent of their estimated total doses to support the rollout of vaccinations at their private-sector pharmacy chains (in New Jersey, CVS and Walgreens). According to Persichilli, New Jersey initially requested 21,450 doses for its LTC needs and 54,600 for frontline workers in the event of a second surge.

New Jersey has the highest density of long-term care residents in the country, and is one of 37 states vaccinating its LTC residents, Murphy said.

Gov. Phil Murphy – COVID-19 Briefing – 12-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Special election calendar changes

All special elections in New Jersey, including those for fire commissioners and school boards in districts where elections do not align with the November general election, will be moved to April 20, 2021 to coincide with spring municipal and school elections, the governor said Monday.

“We are doing this because moving these elections to a single day better conserves the time and resources of our local election officials,” he said.

Murphy said the state will announce by mid-February whether those polls will be held by mail, in person, or a combination of both based on pandemic data and epidemiological projections.

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

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