In his final COVID-19 briefing of 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy outlined more plans for the vaccine rollout, announced the departure of another of his cabinet members, and encouraged residents to hold out for a better 2021.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 30, 2020
Another 4,664 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 472,264 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
Sadly, 99 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 16,931 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,021 probable COVID-19-related deaths—76 more than previously reported.
Since March, 536 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 193 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
Nearly 7.7 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 5.37-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
In his 144th and final COVID-19 briefing of the year, Murphy tried to rally residents with words of encouragement and resilience for the new year.
“I wish there was magic on Friday,” the governor said. “The year 2021 unquestionably will be better, but it will not be on Day One, or even in the first days, weeks, or months. We can’t consider ourselves done with this virus because this virus unfortunately is not done with us.
“Let’s keep fighting,” he said. “If we all do our jobs, we’ll make our 2021 so much better than our 2020.”
Rate of transmission (Rt) down to 0.95, spot positivity lower in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 15.19 percent December 26; in South Jersey, it was lower, at 14.6 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.95 from samples taken December 28.
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.
Additional LTC deaths and hospitalizations, more pediatric multisystem inflammatory cases
Throughout New Jersey, 3,727 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (204) or confirmed (3,523) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 701 were in intensive or critical care, and 467 of the ICU and critical-care patients (67 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 428 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 437 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,155 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 426 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 48,504 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 10 percent of total cases.
That includes 29,606 residents and 18,898 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,505 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (44 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 125 staff deaths.
Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 425 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 151 have died from complications related to the virus — two more than previously reported. Eleven veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 277 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 287 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, 69 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome — two 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, 108 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 546 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.
LTC vaccinations underway, but infections and deaths continue to mount
Residents and staff at the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home received their vaccines on Monday; those at the Vineland Veterans Memorial Home will be vaccinated on New Year’s Day, and those at the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home will be vaccinated next Tuesday, January 5.
Although the state has prioritized inoculating staff and residents at its long-term care sites with the first available doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna—to date, 62,901 have been vaccinated—long-term care sites throughout the state continue to battle new infections and related deaths.
Although testing continues multiple times a week at LTC sites throughout the state, as officials try to “stop the virus at the door,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said vaccinations present a complicated logistical problem given the limited availability of doses.
“This virus is relentless and it preys on elderly, vulnerable individuals,” Persichilli said. “We want to do vaccines by appointment because you don’t want to puncture a vial and take out four doses and have one dose left over. If you do, you have to use it within six hours, and if you don’t, it’s wasted, so people are being very careful logistically.
“Secondly, we never know how many doses we’re getting,” she said. “So they’re scheduling according to an assumption of the expectation of doses, and it’s been so variable, the cadence of it has not been steady. We expect that to improve.”
“We continue to suffer from a lack of a national strategy for COVID, and that includes testing,” Murphy said. “There’s still a shocking amount of asymptomatic COVID positives in our state, period, continuing in and around long-term care.”
In January, the state will launch the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System, whereby residents can schedule future vaccinations. In the meantime, the New Jersey COVID-19 vaccine information hub is live here.
DHS commissioner joins Biden COVID response team, unemployment update
On January 15, Carole Johnson will depart her role as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) to join the Biden administration as the testing coordinator of the COVID-19 response team.
Deputy Commissioner Sarah Adelman will become DHS acting commissioner when Johnson leaves.
While unemployed residents await the results of federal wrangling to secure extended unemployment benefits, New Jersey Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo offered a breakdown of the pandemic impact on the state workforce in 2020.
“We have made payments to more than 1.5 million workers in NJ; more than the population of 11 states,” Asaro-Angelo said. “[Of those], 70 percent have received more than $10,000; 30 percent have received more than $30,000.”
The state has paid out more than $20 billion in unemployment benefits this year, he said.
In other notes: the New Jersey senior property tax freeze deadline has been extended to February 1, 2021.
Indoor athletics may resume January 2 under certain conditions, but interstate sports competition will remain prohibited for now. The moratorium on youth hockey specifically has been extended among the governors of New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts until at least January 31.
Finally, New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan reported that the state division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has initiated more than 200 enforcement actions against liquor license-holders during the pandemic.
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