Coronavirus Update: 504,647 Infections, 17,464 Related Deaths; 450K Residents Pre-Register for Vaccine

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Plus: first responders are now eligible to receive vaccinations, as state officials seek more healthcare volunteers to aid in administering the shots, and medical advisor Dr. Eddy Bresnitz explains how the vaccine works.

By Matt Skoufalos | January 6, 2021

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 1-6-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 5,028 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 504,647 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.

New Jersey is also reporting 921 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 52,624 positive antigen tests.

Sadly, 104 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 17,464 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,059 probable COVID-19-related deaths, 38 more than previously reported.

Since March, 554 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 195 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

Nearly 7.8 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 5.59-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.96, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 14.96 percent January 2; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 15.71 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, rose to 0.96 from samples taken January 4.

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 1-6-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

Additional veterans home deaths, LTC cases shrink to less than 10 percent of statewide total

Throughout New Jersey, 3,744 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (213) or confirmed (3,531) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 668 were in intensive or critical care, and 456 of the ICU and critical-care patients (68 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 459 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 449 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,173 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 431 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 49,907 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or nearly 10 percent of total cases.

That includes 30,379 residents and 19,528 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,570 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (43 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 125 staff deaths.

Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 433 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 154 have died from complications related to the virus — one more than previously reported, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. Five veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 283 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 297 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, 73 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, Persichilli said—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, 111 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 557 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.

Ambulatory Care Technician Sady Ferguson, right, administers a vaccination for COVID-19 to Medical Office Assistant Yvelisse Covington at University Hospital in Newark, NJ. Covington was among the first group of people in New Jersey to receive the vaccination. Credit: Kirsten Luce for The New York Times.

450,000 New Jerseyans pre-register for COVID-19 vaccine, first responders can get immunized now

More than 450,000 New Jersey residents pre-registered for their COVID-19 vaccinations through the state portal in the first day that the site went live.

Sworn law enforcement officers and firefighters are now eligible for inoculations in the “1B” category, joining emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to be among those first responders able to receive the vaccine.

Vaccinations across categories will be the norm “to ensure expeditious transition from one phase to the next,” Persichilli said Wednesday, citing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to manage geographic demand, vaccine supply fluctuations, and availability of potentially unused shots.

“It is not necessary to vaccinate all individuals in one phase before initiating the next phase,” she said, adding that “one phase will overlap with another.”

In order to achieve the 70-percent-of-eligible-population figure that the state is touting as necessary to help drive herd immunity across New Jersey, 4.7 million people must be vaccinated. The first group (1A) of health workers comprises 650,000 residents, and another 2.5 million essential workers may be found throughout the 1A, 1B, and 1C categories, Persichilli said.

“We’re hoping to get a supply of vaccine [by]  April to May that will meet the demand for everyone,” she said. “In the meantime, if you pre-register and you fit into an essential worker category, and we open it up in segments, your advantage is that you’re pre-registered. You’ll get an e-mail and you’ll be able to make an appointment.”

New Jersey Phased Vaccination Plan. Credit: NJDOH.

All registration information is kept confidential, Persichilli said.

New Jersey still needs qualified healthcare workers with skill administering intramuscular vaccinations, the commissioner said, urging any available professionals to volunteer. (For all pandemic relief volunteering opportunities, visit covid19.nj.gov/help.)

“If you have these skills, we need you,” Murphy said. “We asked for healthcare help out of the bullpen in the spring. We’re asking for it again.”

To date, the governor said, at least 137,829 vaccinations have been administered statewide; of those, 135,606 were the first of the two-dose inoculation, and 2,149 were the second dose.

“There is no question that is under-counting the number of shots that have actually been delivered,” he added.

NJDOH Medical Advisor Dr. Eddy Breznitz – COVID-19 briefing 1-6-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

How the vaccine works

Finally, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, medical adviser to the New Jersey Health Department, walked through the mechanisms of the COVID-19 vaccines from pharmaceutical manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna.

Both are delivered via messenger RNA (mRNA), which contains the instructions for identifying the spike protein on the surface of the COVID-19 virus vaccines.

The mRNA enters the cellular cytoplasm, but not its nucleus, Bresnitz said, and begins to produce the spike protein.

The patient’s immune system then recognizes that protein as a foreign body and begins to generate antibodies in response. Thereafter, he said, the mRNA is broken down by the body with 48 hours.

“It’s ingenious how it works because you’re not infecting the genetic structure of an individual, and you’re using the mechanism of the body or the cell itself to produce the antigen, and it produces it quite rapidly,” Bresnitz said.

“After the second dose, you see an even greater immunologic response.”

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

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