The state call center logged 17,000 calls in its first hour of operation, as resident demand for the inoculations continues to outpace supply statewide. Plus: a plan for those with intellectual disabilities is in the works.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 25, 2021
Another 3,694 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 598,660 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
New Jersey is also reporting 645 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 68,291 positive antigen tests.
Antigen tests have a faster turnaround time than PCR tests—sometime within 15 to 30 minutes—but are less reliable at detecting active infection of the virus and more capable of reporting false positives.
Sadly, 21 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 18,851 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,121 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Since March, 675 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 214 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
Nearly 9 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 6.77-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) down to 0.94, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 9.62 percent January 21; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 10.94 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, fell to 0.94 from samples taken January 23.
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, school-related outbreaks holding steady
Throughout New Jersey, 3,254 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (221) or confirmed (3,033) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 598 are in intensive or critical care, and 392 of the ICU and critical-care patients (65 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 314 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 242 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,220 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 435 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 53,236 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, less than nine percent of total cases.
That includes 32,034 residents and 21,202 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,713 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (42 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 142 staff deaths.
Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 434 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 155 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 290 have recovered from the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 330 of 1,141 patients and 808 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 81 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, 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, 121 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 597 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.
Across New Jersey overall, 565,401 vaccinations have been administered to date; 492,260 first doses, and 72,700 second doses. Of those, 33,107 have been administered in Camden County.
Residents registering for vaccines despite ‘tremendous’ supply-demand imbalance
Throughout the state, some 2.1 million residents have pre-registered to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but New Jersey faces “a tremendous imbalance between the demand for vaccine and the supply for vaccine,” Persichilli noted.
Until additional vaccine manufacturers “will likely be approved in the coming weeks,” she said, the supply of available doses is dwarfed by requests for them.
In its first hour of operation, the New Jersey vaccine call center (855-568-0545) fielded 17,000 requests from residents seeking help scheduling their immunizations and locating sites at which to get them. By noon, that figure had reached 58,000, Murphy said.
The call center boasts a staff of 250, with plans to add more, officials said. It’s operated by a third-party vendor, Xtend Healthcare, LLC, and staffers speak 240 languages. A job posting for the service advertised call center positions with the service at $16 per hour on a six-month, temporary contract.
In the future, the service may be able to help schedule and edit appointments, Persichilli said, noting that the state is exploring the streamlining of scheduling and patient registration at all its vaccination sites.
However, that hasn’t helped some folks who got their first shots at the Gloucester County mega-site at Rowan University, and left without being given an appointment for their second dose of the vaccine. Persichilli said officials are aware of the problem and are working to correct it.
Delivering immunizations to those New Jersey residents in long-term care settings remains an ongoing concern as well. To date, federal partners CVS and Walgreens pharmacies have administered 76,697 doses, and have visited 838 of 1,385 LTC sites throughout the state.
The pharmacies will continue scheduling these appointments through February,” Persichilli said, prioritizing, in order: nursing homes first, assisted living facilities, congregate senior housing, developmental disability homes, and continuing care retirement communities.
New Jersey is also negotiating with Walmart to vaccinate those people with intellectual disabilities living in group homes throughout the state, Persichilli said.
Risk of in-school transmission ‘lower than we feared’
Finally, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who directs the New Jersey Communicable Disease Service, said the state has adjusted its guidance for school districts after having observed that in-school transmission of the virus, “while it does occur… is certainly lower than we feared going into this.
“The disruption of keeping out people who are exposed to somebody who had symptoms that very likely were due to something not related to COVID was high,” Lifshitz said.
“That minor change was made in the guidance” January 19, 2021, he said.
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