Coronavirus Update: 678,306 Infections, 20,495 Related Deaths; NJDOE to Allocate $1.2B in COVID Funds, Storms Delay Vax Shipments


Plus: hospitalizations are down to levels last seen in mid-November 2020, and the state Department of Education is seeking a federal waiver of standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year.

By Matt Skoufalos | February 19, 2021

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

Another 2,679 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 678,306 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.

New Jersey is also reporting 593 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 83,192 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, 64 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 20,495 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,289 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Since March 2020, 715 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 232 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 10.24 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 7.69-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 7.58 percent February 15; in South Jersey, it was lowest, at 6.42 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 17.

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, 2,202 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (174) or confirmed (2,028) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

That’s the least number of hospitalized patients since November 15, 2020, when 2,146 people were in New Jersey hospitals with the virus.

Among those hospitalized patients, 443 are in intensive or critical care, and 300 of the ICU and critical-care patients (68 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 216 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 323 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,250 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 387 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 52,990 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.8 percent of total cases.

That includes 32,148 residents and 20,842 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,873 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (38 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 143 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, 95 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli—three 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, 1.56 million vaccinations have been administered to date: 1.102 million first doses, and 456,045 second doses.

Of those, 90,624 have been administered in Camden County, seventh-most in the state.

Across New Jersey, 1,700 providers have been approved to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, but the state only has enough to supply 300 points of dispensation at present, Persichilli said.

On Friday, Murphy also offered an update on clinics scheduled through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care (LTC) Program.

Across the state, 1,083 LTC facilities have completed their first clinics, 873 have completed their second clinics, and 167 have completed their third clinics. Fourth clinics will be scheduled as needed, and the program has administered nearly 70 percent of its allotted vaccines.

NJ schools to get $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, NJDOE to seek waiver of standardized tests for 2021 school year

Acting New Jersey Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan announced Friday that the state Department of Education (NJDOE) will open applications to schools statewide for a share of $1.2 billion from the second round of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II).

According to a statement from the department, 90 percent of those funds will go to local districts “to address the areas most impacted by the disruption and closure of schools caused by COVID-19.”

Another $105 million of that $1.2 billion will be dedicated to aid districts in providing “additional academic and mental health supports,” Allen-McMillan said.

The department will award $75 million in “learning acceleration grants” for programs in STEM, literacy, and the arts, including summer learning academies and one-on-one tutoring.

Acting NJ Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan. Credit: NJ Pen.

The money will fund “student efficacy reports, professional development, and programs to engage parents and caregivers” through September 2021, the acting commissioner said.

All districts are eligible to apply, but “low-income districts most in need of support” will be prioritized, she said.

Additionally, $30 million in non-competitive mental health grants will be available “to assist districts in building a tiered, sustainable, comprehensive model of mental health services,” Allen-McMillan said.

NJOE is also formally requesting from the U.S. government a federal waiver of standardized testing of New Jersey students for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Citing “the severe disruptions caused by COVID-19,” the department said in a statement that “statewide assessments will detract from schools’ efforts to focus on students’ social-emotional health, wellness, and individualized academic and behavioral supports.”

The waiver would cover statewide assessments including the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, ACCESS for ELLs, and the Dynamic Learning Maps alternate assessment for students with the most significant intellectual disabilities.

As a backup, Allen-McMillan said the state standardized testing window has been extended into early June, “which gives us flexibility if we are required to administer the spring suite of testing.

“We know that educators are assessing their students,” she said. “We as a state want to ensure that we have data that supports the growth of students towards mastery of their grade level and content standards. We want to reduce the burden and anxiety that would come along with assessing going forward.”

NJDOE will use ESSER II state set-aside funds to provide assistance to non-Title I LEAs, County Special Services School Districts, Education Services Commissions, Jointure Commissions, Division of Children and Families, Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice Commission, and the Juvenile Detention Centers

Gov. Phil Murphy – COVID-19 Briefing – 2-19-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

Winter storms disrupt vaccine appointments, logistics

New Jersey has not received some 230,000 anticipated doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week owing to the disruption of transportation services by winter storms across the country.

Four of the six state mega-sites were closed due to winter storms, necessitating rescheduling of appointments for those initially slotted for a February 18 immunization.

Murphy said officials are asking vaccinators to use their existing inventories to satisfy current appointments, and are aware that not all can do so.

“We ask everyone for a little patience considering the latest kink Mother Nature has thrown into the works, not just here, but nationally,” he said.

Persichilli said that some 2.4 million New Jerseyans are still searching for a vaccination appointment, and are “patiently awaiting” an increase in their allotments from the federal supply chain.

“Like the rest of the nation, we remain in a period of tremendous imbalance between the supply of vaccine and the demand for appointments,” she said, “and the shipping delays have just added another layer of strain to our ongoing supply challenges.”

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

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