Plus: an update on vaccination roll-outs across the state.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 5, 2021
Another 5,023 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 637,357 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.
New Jersey is also reporting 3,723 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 75,967 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, 93 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 19,699 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,187 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Since March 2020, 696 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 223 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 9.58 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 7.21-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.92, spot positivity highest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 6.83 percent February 1; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 7.8 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 0.92 from samples taken February 3.
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 continue to decline
Throughout New Jersey, 2,916 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (202) or confirmed (2,714) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 515 are in intensive or critical care, and 342 of the ICU and critical-care patients (66 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 377 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 436 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,230 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 419 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 52,291 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, less than nine percent of total cases.
That includes 31,854 residents and 20,437 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,797 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (41 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 143 staff deaths.
Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 436 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 155 have died from complications related to the virus.
Six veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 294 have recovered from the virus.
New MISC cases, school-related transmissions
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 331 of 1,150 patients and 919 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 88 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC)—four more than previously reported, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.
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, 137 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 655 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, 925,579 vaccinations have been administered to date; 745,552 first doses, and 179,956 second doses.
Of those, 53,393 have been administered in Camden County, seventh-most in the state.
Despite this progress, many residents who want to be vaccinated won’t be able to get an appointment to do so “for weeks and weeks,” Persichilli said.
The Health Commissioner said she expects more slots will open in the coming weeks, as the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program adds an additional vendor, Rite Aid, “and more sites and more dosages will come along with that.”
Thus far, the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System has fielded 169,503 unique calls and completed 4,049 pre-registrations for immunizations, with “more appointments coming in a matter of days,” Persichilli said.
Murphy also signaled that the broader availability of additional vaccine doses could increase opportunities for teachers and other school staff in the 1B priority group to be immunized.
“At the head of the list are our educators so we can support school districts, and moving quickly toward an in-person learning environment,” he said.
LTC vaccine clinics still in progress
Across the state, 136,610 total vaccinations (first and second doses) have been administered at LTC clinics through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program, or 53 percent of all doses administered in those settings.
Program partners have scheduled 1,297 first-visit clinics, of which 1,053 of 1,297 have been completed; 1,271 second-visit clinics, of which 404 have been completed; and 1,131 third-visit clinics, of which none have yet been completed.
19 B.1.1.7 cases reported in New Jersey
New Jersey identified its 19th case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, also known as “the UK variant,” Persichilli reported. They are dispersed across the state as follows:
- Ocean County – 8
- Essex County – 4
- Morris County – 2
- Atlantic, Middlesex, Warren Counties – 1 each
Only three of the B.1.1.7 patients had known travel histories, the commissioner said.
Officials continue to track the incidence of the variant, which is believed to be no more dangerous than other strains of COVID-19, but significantly more easily spread. The governor noted that wariness of the prevalence of the variant informed officials’ decisions to increase indoor gathering limits, which went up to 35 percent of capacity on Friday.
“If it weren’t for the variants, we might have made the move earlier or gone to a higher level of capacity,” Murphy said.
Unemployment claims down for a third week, some residents still await help
The New Jersey Department of Labor received 14,606 new initial unemployment claims, down from 16,618 last week, and marking a third straight week of declines in new claims.
That brings the total number of New Jersey workers who’ve applied for benefits to 1.985 million people. More than 200,000 of them have reopened claims since losing work twice in the past year.
Eligible claimants have received, on average, $15,167 in benefits, Murphy said, and the state has paid out $22 billion in benefits since March 2020.
However, for those who are still awaiting resolution of an issue with their benefits, that information is of little solace.
“We are very aware that it’s difficult to get through to the call center,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo, who said the state is doubling the number of agents working at the call center by the end of February.
Although the additional agents will help the issues, Asaro-Angelo said the state is also working to resolve problems for some 75,000 people who haven’t been able to access their pandemic extended unemployment compensation (PEUC) benefits.
He said hang-ups include prior delays approving those benefits at the federal level and specific technological issues within the system that must be resolved.
“The current system wasn’t made to help people in these dire situations,” Asaro-Angelo said, adding that he hopes the technological concerns can be addressed within the next week.
“I promise you, every governor, every legislator, every congressperson across all political stripes in every state is hearing about this nonstop,” he said.
“The time for true UI (unemployment insurance) reform is now, to make this system be able to serve the folks who are in these situations.”
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