Coronavirus Update: 673,108 Infections, 20,343 Related Deaths; Health Officials Urge Caution Amid Viral Mutations


Only the B.1.1.7 variant has been spotted in the U.S., but state and federal laboratories are performing genetic sequencing to identify new strains of the virus. Health Commissioner Persichilli urges residents to double-mask.

By Matt Skoufalos | February 17, 2021

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 2-17-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 3,786 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 673,108 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.

New Jersey is also reporting 709 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 82,066 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, 92 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 20,343 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,289 probable COVID-19-related deaths—43 more than previously reported.

Since March 2020, 712 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 230 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 10.08 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 7.61-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.91, spot positivity lowest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 10.08 percent February 13; in South Jersey, it was lowest, at 9.95 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 0.91 from samples taken February 15.

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.

Simulated COVID-19 patient in a hospital bed. Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Hospitalizations continue to trend downward

Throughout New Jersey, 2,370 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (167) or confirmed (2,203) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 411 are in intensive or critical care, and 309 of the ICU and critical-care patients (75 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 253 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 301 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,247 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 387 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 52,898 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.8 percent of total cases.

That includes 32,107 residents and 20,791 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,863 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (39 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.

Of 656 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 439 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 155 have died from complications related to the virus.

Eight veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 295 have recovered from the virus.

MISC cases and schools

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 332 of 1,151 patients and 935 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and eight staffers have died from complications related to the virus.

To date, 92 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli—four 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, and one currently is.

Since August 1, 144 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 686 individual cases have been traced to schools in 19 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 14 outbreaks have been linked to 70 cases, second-most in the state.

COVID-19 vaccine bottle mock-up. Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

Vaccination update

Across New Jersey overall, 1.47 million vaccinations have been administered to date: 1.058 million first doses, and 412,118 second doses.

Of those, 85,755 have been administered in Camden County, seventh-most in the state.

Yesterday the six New Jersey mega-vaccination sites reached a single-day high, administering more than 13,000 doses, Persichilli said.

The commissioner also warned residents that immunization scheduling could be disrupted by the impending snowstorm approaching the state. Overall, vaccine shipments to New Jersey have been delayed this week due to the impact on travel of winter storms across the country, she said.

50 B.1.1.7 cases reported in New Jersey, ‘double-masking’ recommended

Fifty cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, also known as “the UK variant,” have been identified across New Jersey counties, Persichilli reported.

That’s up from a total of 38 cases last week. They are dispersed across 12 counties as follows:

  • Ocean County – 14 cases
  • Essex County – seven cases
  • Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris Counties – four cases each
  • Hudson, Passaic, Union, and Warren – two cases each
  • Atlantic County – one case


Very few 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. Murphy said that the presence of the variant in New Jersey has made his administration “more cautious than we otherwise would have been” in its reopening plans.

“There’s no one data string that we look at; there’s a collection of data that we look at,” the governor said.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID-19 Briefing 2-17-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, medical adviser to the state Department of Health, said that health officials have begun conducting genetic sequencing of certain COVID-19 samples to identify variants of the virus.

The state has completed 107 sequences to date, and has another 64 pending this week, Bresnitz said.

Since November, he said New Jersey has sent 111 viral samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Syndromic Surveillance System, approximately 16 per week.

The amount of genetic sequencing data originating in private laboratories is unknown, Bresnitz said.

Genetic sequencing is performed on COVID-19 outbreaks “with atypical transmission patterns, cases with international travel to areas where variants are prevalent, like Brazil and South Africa, and random samplings of cases from across New Jersey,” Persichilli said.

She urged residents to continue to mask up, even double-masking to reduce further risk of transmission of the virus, a message Bresnitz echoed.

“Having a really good first mask is a key and then having some added protection for the second,” he said.

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

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