Coronavirus Update: 445,138 Infections, 16,521 Related Deaths; Mitigation Efforts Working, Murphy Cautions ‘Don’t Go Big on Christmas’


As New Jersey logs its first two consecutive days of 100-plus COVID-19-related deaths since May, Gov. Phil Murphy urges residents to limit their holiday gatherings to household members only.

By Matt Skoufalos | December 23, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 12-23-20. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 4,919 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 445,138 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.

Sadly, 103 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 16,521 lives lost during the pandemic.

Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first consecutive days of 100-plus COVID-19-related deaths in the state since late May; all but a handful of the 103 deaths reported Wednesday have come in the past week, Murphy said.

“These are all families whose Christmas will be spent remembering a loved one who is no longer with them,” the governor said.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,945 probable COVID-19-related deaths, 37 more than previously reported.

Since March, 518 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 187 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 7.3 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 5-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) down to 0.97, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 12.97 percent December 19; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 15.16 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.97 from samples taken December 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.

Gov. Phil Murphy – COVID-19 Briefing – 12-23-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Hospitalizations continue to climb, 2/3 of critical-care patients on ventilators

Throughout New Jersey, 3,841 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (229) or confirmed (3,612) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Since Monday, December 21, that count has climbed by 100 people each day, he said.

“Our healthcare workers are doing heroic things, but it is up to us to keep our loved ones out of the hospital,” the governor said, pleading with residents to follow pandemic mitigation behaviors like social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing.

Among those hospitalized patients, 765 were in intensive or critical care, the most since May 26, Murphy noted, and 485 of the ICU and critical-care patients (64 percent) are on ventilators, the most since May 29, he said.

Across New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals yesterday, 498 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, while 426 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,137 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 427 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 47,370 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or nearly 11 percent of total cases.

That includes 29,012 residents and 18,358 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,454 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, 425 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, 273 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, 67 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, 105 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 459 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 12-23-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Vaccinations underway as Pfizer, Moderna doses roll in for healthcare workers

To date, 27,730 healthcare workers have received their first doses of the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine from pharma giants Pfizer and Moderna, with shipments hitting 54 hospitals plus six other sites across the state, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Thus far, New Jersey has been shipped 208,000 doses from both manufacturers, 34,000 of which have been reserved for long-term care facilities, and another 175,000 of which are headed to “hospitals, federally qualified health centers, county and local health agencies, psych hospitals, urgent care clinics, and medical practices,” Persichilli said.

In total, the state expects 405,825 vaccine doses to arrive before the year’s end.

Starting Monday, New Jersey’s skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) will begin vaccinating staff and patients with 55,000 doses, which amounts to 45 percent of all the Pfizer doses received in the first two weeks. Walgreens and CVS have scheduled vaccinations for 90 SNFs for next week.

At a minimum, Persichilli said half-a-million first and second doses will be allocated to cover 1,700 New Jersey LTC facilities participating in the CDC Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. Through February, those sites will receive the first doses allocated from the Pfizer vaccine stores each week.

NJ Medical Director Edward Lifshitz – COVID-19 Briefing – 12-23-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Lifshitz says prevention measures helping, Murphy admonishes: ‘Don’t screw up Christmas’

In Wednesday’s briefing, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, Director of New Jersey’s Communicable Disease Service, opined that statewide mitigation efforts collectively have helped tamp down the impact of the virus throughout the pandemic.

“I do believe all the steps that people in New Jersey have taken have stopped this from being a much worse situation than it could have been,” he said.

“My hope is that what we are seeing is that we are now cresting near the top of the curve and that we will hopefully begin to see it begin to drop down again,” Lifshitz said.

However, as statistical indicators begin to show improvement, more deaths are sure to follow, as they have throughout the pandemic, the doctor said.

“The deaths are a lagging indicator, meaning unfortunately as things begin to look better, deaths will increase,” Lifshitz said. “They will not likely go down as early as other things will go down.”

To lessen the impact of new infections and hospitalizations, the governor implored residents: “Don’t screw up Christmas.

“Don’t go big,” he said. “Don’t go multi-generational. Stay within your immediate family.”

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

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