Coronavirus Update: 767,583 Infections, 21,666 Related Deaths; NJ Leads USA in COVID-19 Spread Again, Gov. Urges Vigilance


Even halfway to its 4.7-million-resident vaccination goal, New Jersey can’t let up on pandemic protocols, Gov. Murphy says, adding, the vaccine ‘does not make you bulletproof.’ 

By Matt Skoufalos | March 22, 2021

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 3-22-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 2,608 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 767,583 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

New Jersey is also reporting 697 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 101,454 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.

“We are back to leading the nation in the spread of this virus,” the governor said. “Only you all by the millions can stop the spread of this virus.”

Murphy urged residents to remember that “the presence of vaccines… does not mean the pandemic is over,” and pointed out that vaccination “only prevents you from developing severe COVID.

“It does not make you bulletproof, and you are still capable of spreading the virus to those around you who have not been vaccinated,” he said. “And even if you are fully vaccinated… a face mask helps trap the potentially contagious droplets you are exhaling to others.

“Until we reach our vaccination goal, we all have to keep wearing our face masks,” the governor said, noting later that New Jersey is “sort of in a balancing moment.”

Sadly, 28 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 21,666 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,515 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Since March 2020, 743 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 244 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 11.544 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with an 8.73-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.05, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 8.48 percent March 18; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 9.01 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.09 on March 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-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.

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

Hospitalizations remain low

Throughout New Jersey, 1,992 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (119) or confirmed (1,873) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 428 are in intensive or critical care, and 217 of the ICU and critical-care patients (57 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 207 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 190 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,300 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 240 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 53,831 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.1 percent of total cases.

That includes 32,456 residents and 21,375 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,972 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 220 have died from complications related to the virus.

Presently, 12 veterans are hospitalized with COVID-19; 422 have recovered from the virus.

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.

MISC cases and schools

To date, 110 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli—two 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.

Since August 1, 188 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 890 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.

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

Vaccination update

Across the state, 3.510 million inoculations have been administered to date: 2.333 million first doses, and 1.240 million second doses. In Camden County, 215,464 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 3 million within two more weeks.

“Importantly, there have been a total of more than 2.3 million first doses administered,” Murphy said. “That means that we are roughly halfway to our initial goal of vaccinating 4.7 million individuals, and, by the way, more than 1.2 million of those who live, work, or study in New Jersey are fully vaccinated.”

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID-19 Briefing 3-22-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

NJ records 400 variants of concern

Mutated offshoots of COVID-19, or “variants of concern,” continue to circulate throughout New Jersey; Persichilli reported that the state has traced 400 such cases to date.

At 391 cases, 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.

“We are closely monitoring the trajectory of COVID-19 in the U.K. because it is now the dominant strain in that country,” Persichilli said.

The first case of the B.1.351, or “South African” variant, in New Jersey was identified two weeks ago, and the state now has three reported cases of the P.1 “Brazilian” variant.

Seven cases have also been reported of two different California variants as well as 65 instances of strain B.1.526, which has been reported as originating in New York.

NJDOH LTC Visitation Guidance. Credit: NJ Pen.

LTC visitation, primary elections

New guidance will be forthcoming for visitors to New Jersey long-term care centers, the governor said Monday.

In areas of New Jersey with low or moderate COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) scores—which offer a regional picture of the spread of the pandemic across the state—LTCs should be allowing for direct, in-person visits regardless of either residents’ or visitors’ vaccination status.

In regions with a CALI score of “high” or “very high,” and in which less than 70 percent of residents have been vaccinated, only those facilities in which residents have been fully vaccinated should be receiving visitors indoors, Murphy said.

“The overriding principle we’re working under is that we recognize that families need to be able to be together, especially when so many have been apart for so long,” he said.

“We expect all of our long-term care facilities to work with us.”

The announcement follows Murphy’s March 10 updated guidance allowing outdoor, compassionate care, end-of-life, and essential caregiver visits.

Finally, the governor noted that the June 8 primary elections should be conducted in person, saying, “We are expecting to be in a much better place two-and-a-half months from now.”

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

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