Early reports show underlying health conditions in 46 percent of fatal cases, community spread in long-term care facilities, and 50 percent more COVID-19-related fatalities in communities of color.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 15, 2020
Another 2,625 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 71,030 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
As the numbers continue to climb, Murphy also noted that another 351 New Jersey residents have lost their lives to COVID-19-related complications, for a total of 3,156.
Throughout the state, 8,270 residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 or awaiting confirmation of a COVID-19 test.
Among them, 1,980 are in critical or intensive care settings; 1,705, or 86 percent, are on ventilators.
The state’s field hospitals are currently housing 39 patients, and another 709 residents were discharged from brick-and-mortar hospitals in the 24-hour period between 10 p.m. Monday to 10 p.m. Tuesday.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the daily growth rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations is down to 3 percent Wednesday from Tuesday’s observed rate of 4 percent.
In total, 6,300 New Jersey residents either diagnosed or under investigation for COVID-19 have been discharged from state hospitals to date, Persichilli said.
A significant number of the new deaths occurred over the Easter weekend, Murphy said, reminding residents of the delays in reporting health data. Of the total cases in New Jersey, about 54,000 were reported in April, the governor said, indicating that some 17,000 of total cases “have now exited that two-week incubation period,” minus those who’ve lost their fights with COVID-19.
“As we see the daily overall number of positive test results rise, every day there are hundreds if not thousands of residents who received a positive result who have now defeated the virus,” Murphy said.
However, the governor cautioned that “contextual aspects to these numbers” shouldn’t mean people lose focus on the precariousness of the state health system, and the “the pain of the families who lost loved ones.”
The potential for New Jersey to suffer as many as 36,000 deaths from the virus “still hangs out there like a storm cloud,” Murphy said, noting, “it could have been 3 million of us infected.”
Asked what conditions would be necessary to reopen the state to business as normal, the governor said “broad-scale testing and a really robust contact tracing program” for exposures first must be in place to eliminate community spread of illness.
Presently, New Jersey is home to 66 COVID-19 testing locations.
Underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes, chronic diseases, lung ailments, immune-compromised conditions, and neurological and developmental challenges underpin 46 percent of those who’ve perished from complications related to COVID-19, Persichilli said.
COVID-19 remains a concern for those housed in long-term care facilities, and Persichilli noted that 358 long-term care facilities in the state account for 6,815 cases of the virus.
Of the 800 veterans housed in New Jersey’s three veterans homes, 160 are positive or under investigation for COVID-19, and 45 have died from complications related to the virus. Similarly, 97 cases and six deaths have originated among New Jersey’s 1,400 psychiatric hospital patients, where 237 of 4,800 staffers have also tested positive for the virus, Persichilli said.
There are also early indicators that the virus is disproportionately affecting communities of color, with Murphy reporting 50 percent higher COVID-19-related fatalities among them. The governor suggested that these conditions could be related to a variety of factors, including the density of households in such communities, their lack of healthcare access, a disproportionate number of underlying health conditions, and disproportionate representation among nurses, first responders, and other essential workers.
Long-term facility aides, EMTs, and paramedics are still needed, and Persichilli called for volunteers to sign up. Student nurses could be pressed into service in long-term care settings, and certified EMTs whose certificates have expired within the past five years are eligible. Waivers are also being issued for those coming to New Jersey from out of the state, she said.
‘Bouncing forward’ vs. ‘bouncing back’
New Jersey State Police Colonel Pat Callahan also offered a note on the especially difficult impact of the virus on funeral directors, medical examiners, and those who provide mortuary services.
Even for those who trade in death, the unprecedented workload they face “is a daily discussion for us,” Callahan said, adding, “it is not an easy discussion.”
New Jersey has already extended hours for cemeteries and crematoria to assist with the stress of the unprecedented volume of work they face.
In addition to offering the flexibility to keep up with that work, which includes disposing of literal trailers full of bodies, the state is offering crisis counseling “that goes along with the not-normal process to have to deal with that much death,” Callahan said.
“I know we use the term resiliency a lot, and some people think that that’s bouncing back,” he said. “In this instance, we’re not sure people can ever bounce back, so we use the term ‘bouncing forward.’
“None of us… will ever be the same,” Callahan said.
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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