Officials also raised the indoor and outdoor limits for certain gatherings, clarified rules for visiting loved ones in long-term care, and announced the elimination of the digital divide for students.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 10, 2021
Another 3,047 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 729,403 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
New Jersey is also reporting 948 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 93,414 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, 56 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 21,294 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,474 probable COVID-19-related deaths—143 more than previously reported.
Since March 2020, 736 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 242 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 11.07 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with an 8.29-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.04, spot positivity lowest in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 10.56 percent March 6; in South Jersey, it was lowest, at 8.29 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.04 on March 8.
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-2020 COVID-19 spike, the highest reported RT in New Jersey was 1.48, recorded August 1, 2020. The lowest was 0.62, recorded June 9, 2020.
Hospitalizations continue to trend downward
Throughout New Jersey, 1,961 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (138) or confirmed (1,823) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 408 are in intensive or critical care, and 235 of the ICU and critical-care patients (58 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 244 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 227 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,281 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 273 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 53,507 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.3 percent of total cases.
That includes 32,342 residents and 21,165 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,939 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (37 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 219 have died from complications related to the virus.
Eight veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 422 have recovered from the virus.
MISC cases and schools
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 333 of 1,129 patients and 971 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Fourteen patients and eight staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
To date, 106 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), 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, 173 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 804 individual cases have been traced to schools in 19 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 14 outbreaks have been linked to 70 cases, third-most in the state.
Across the state, 2.67 million inoculations have been administered to date: 1.772 million first doses, and 899,234 second doses.
In Camden County, 158,106 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.
LTC sites report that 72 percent of residents are fully vaccinated and assisted living facilities report that 90 percent of their residents are fully vaccinated, Persichilli said. Both facilities report, however, that only 50 percent of staffers at such sites are fully vaccinated, making it a challenge to increase adoption of the vaccine among them, she said.
145 cases of ‘variants of concern’ in New Jersey, first “South African” variant
Mutated offshoots of COVID-19, or “variants of concern,” continue to circulate throughout New Jersey.
On Wednesday, Persichilli reported that the state has traced 145 such cases to date, including the first B.1.351, or “South African” variant, in the state.
The most common COVID-19 variant in the United States is the B.1.1.7, or “UK” variant, which has been spotted in at least 16 New Jersey counties.
In addition to it and the “South African” variant, New Jersey has also identified cases of the P.1 “Brazilian” variant, and strain B.1.526, which has been reported as originating in New York.
Indoor capacities up to 50 percent for restaurants, gyms, salons
Starting March 19, capacity limits for indoor recreational and amusement businesses, gyms and fitness clubs, barber shops, and other personal care businesses will increase from 35 to 50 percent.
That same day, New Jersey will increase the indoor limits for gatherings that are not religious ceremonies, political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services, or performances to 25 people, up from 10; outdoor gatherings of the same type will increase to a cap of 50 people up from 25.
“We feel confident in these steps given the data that we’ve been seeing over the past five weeks, since the last time we expanded the indoor reality,” Murphy said, citing a nearly two-week stretch of fewer than 2,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide.
“We believe that when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our healthcare system,” he said, adding that New Jersey’s mask mandate “remains in effect and will continue to be enforced.”
The governor also urged residents to hold social activities outside to reduce the potential risk of transmission.
Clarification on LTC visits
Murphy also spoke Wednesday on expanding protocols for visitors at long-term care sites, clarifying that, even when indoor visits are restricted, compassionate care, essential caregiver, outdoor, and end-of-life visitation should still be allowed.
Facilities that haven’t had a positive case in 14 days may offer essential caregiver visits, and compassionate care visits can be offered “for any resident who may not be coping well or whose health is declining,” the governor said.
Persichilli later outlined some compassionate caregiver cases, including the significant deterioration of a resident’s physical or emotional health, a recent loss of a friend or family member, or sudden weight loss, problems eating, dehydration, or emotional distress.
“We have enormous concern regarding the emotional distress caused by isolation and its much broader impact on the overall health and quality of life on residents in our long-term care facilities,” he said.
“Although compassionate care visits are not meant to be routine, they may need to take place more than once.”
Those with concerns should contact the Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman Laurie Brewer at 1-877-582-6995 or nj.gov/ooie, Murphy said.
Digital divide erased
Finally, the governor announced Wednesday that “New Jersey’s digital divide is no more.”
After an infusion of some $54 million in federal aid and outside fundraising, Murphy said those needs have been met.
“Now our task shifts to ensuring that the digital divide isn’t allowed to creak back open,” he said, noting that the aim of the program wasn’t only to address remote learning needs during the pandemic, but also to see that they would have the tools to succeed going forward.
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