Additional groups of people will be eligible for their immunizations, including teachers and childcare workers, frontline workers, and the homeless. Plus: Murphy “fully expect(s)” kids to return to in-person school in the fall.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 1, 2021
Another 2,668 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 704,362 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
New Jersey is also reporting 643 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 88,134 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 20,942 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,331 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Since March 2020, 725 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 238 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 10.56 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 7.98-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.94, spot positivity lowest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 6.44 percent February 25; in South Jersey, it was lowest, at 5.20 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 0.94 from samples taken February 27.
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 trend downward
Throughout New Jersey, 1,865 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (136) or confirmed (1,729) case of COVID-19, Murphy said, although the governor noted that that information could be artificially low, as three hospitals did not report their overnight data.
Among those hospitalized patients, 387 are in intensive or critical care, and 226 of the ICU and critical-care patients (58 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 203 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 178 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,267 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 337 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 53,278 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.6 percent of total cases.
That includes 32,251 residents and 21,027 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,911 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (37 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, 333 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, 105 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli—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, and one currently is.
Since August 1, 152 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 737 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.
New Jersey hit a significant vaccination milestone Sunday, crossing the 2-million dose threshold.
Across the state, 2.04 million inoculations have been administered to date: 1.347 million first doses, and 691,459 second doses.
In Camden County, 115,754 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.
The first vaccines in the state were administered December 15; by February 8—55 days later—New Jersey had immunized its millionth resident. Twenty days thereafter, that count hit 2 million. And of those patients who’ve received one shot, 88 percent return for a second, Persichilli said.
Federal approval of the Johnson and Johnson one-shot COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend means the state can expect to receive 73,600 doses of that immunization within the coming few weeks.
“As we know, J&J is ramping up production,” Murphy said.
“We are being as conservative as possible and not calculating for anything else beyond this 70,000-plus-dose haul until we are told otherwise, so we are going to do all that we can to make sure that our administration of these doses is strategic and well-planned,” he said.
Through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Centers, CVS and Walgreens will be allocated an additional 22,500 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine above the 73,600 for use in immunizing New Jersey residents.
Under the partnership, 81 percent of the doses New Jersey has claimed from federal allocations have been administered, or 221,000 doses in total. To date, 165,000 that have been administered by CVS, and 78,000 by Walgreens, Persichilli said.
NJ expands vaccine eligibility March 15, and again March 29
Given the anticipated increase in shipments of additional COVID-19 vaccine doses, New Jersey is expanding availability for additional residents to receive their immunizations, including teachers, childcare staff, transit workers, farm and food production workers, and those living in shelters for reasons of homelessness and domestic violence.
Beginning Monday, March 15, the following groups are eligible for immunizations:
- Pre-K-through-12th-grade educators and support staff;
- Workers in licensed and registered childcare facilities;
- Transportation workers, including bus, taxi, rideshare, and airport employees; NJ TRANSIT workers; and staff at the state Motor Vehicle Commission;
- Public safety workers who are not first responders, including probation officers and fire safety inspectors;
- Migrant farm workers;
- Members of tribal communities; and,
- Homeless people and those living in shelters, including domestic violence shelters.
Starting March 29, additional frontline essential workers are eligible, including those working in:
- Food production, agriculture, and food distribution;
- Elder care and support;
- Warehousing and logistics;
- Social services support staff;
- Medical supply chain;
- Postal and shipping services;
- the judicial system.
Everyone aged 16-64 with medical conditions that can increase the risk of severe illness from the virus, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination.
Prevalence of COVID-19 variants could increase cases once more
Although pandemic numbers have been improving steadily during the past month, officials are concerned that the incidence of COVID-19 variants in the state could lead to an uptick in infections and hospitalizations.
According to Persichilli, New Jersey has observed 63 total cases of the B.1.1.7 “UK” variant of the virus across a dozen or more counties in the state.
To date, the variant has been described by public health officials as more contagious but not necessarily more deadly than other, more prevalent strains of COVID-19 observed in the United States.
For that reason, Persichilli urged residents to “continue the non-pharmaceutical interventions of masking, social distancing, [and] washing your hands” until they can be vaccinated.
“Flu is at the lowest level it has been in years because people are masking up, they’re washing their hands,” the Health Commissioner said. “I believe [that in]May we will have a supply of vaccines for almost everyone. In the meantime, we want cases and hospitalizations to decrease, and as a result, decrease deaths.”
A return to in-person education in the fall?
Finally, Murphy offered an opinion Monday that students would be back to school fully for in-person instruction in the fall.
“We would fully expect, assuming things go the direction they’re going, that we will be in-person for school in September, and I will be very surprised and disappointed if we’re not,” he said.
“I think we will get there, and we are getting there, at a minimum, in a hybrid format, but I hope even more full in person, assuming we can do it safely and responsibly.”
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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