Plus: the governor compares reopening the state to dialing up a dimmer rather than flipping a switch, and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says as many as 48 of 58 Camden County COVID-19 deaths originated in long-term care homes.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 17, 2020
Another 3,250 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, bringing the state total to 78,467, Governor Phil Murphy reported Friday.
New Jersey also sustained 323 new COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the statewide total number of lives lost in the pandemic to 3,840—more than five times the number of residents who perished in the September 11, 2011 attacks, the governor said.
Throughout the state, 8,011 residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, or while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
Of them, 1,961 are in critical or intensive care, and 1,594 (81 percent) are on ventilators.
As of 10 p.m. Thursday, 787 patients were discharged from New Jersey hospitals to lower-acuity care settings or their homes. New Jersey’s field medical stations are currently housing 90 patients, Murphy said.
Throughout the state, 64,468 of the 143,450 COVID-19 tests processed by state labs have tested positive for the virus, or 45 percent of all tests conducted.
In charting the impact of COVID-19, state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan noted that fatalities “are considered a lagging indicator” in healthcare data, meaning that they can illustrate trends, but not forecast them.
The onset of a fatal illness typically occurs a few weeks before death, whereas other underlying and chronic conditions are more readily identified in patient medical histories. As specimens taken from those who died during the pandemic are typically processed about five to seven days after their passing, all counts reported are delayed.
Long-term care facilities under scrutiny
On Wednesday, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli had reported that underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes, chronic diseases, lung ailments, immune-compromised conditions, and neurological and developmental challenges contributed to the deaths of 46 percent of those who’ve died from complications related to COVID-19.
On Friday, Persichilli offered, for the first time, a county-by-county breakdown of long-term care facilities affected by COVID-19.
In Camden County, she said 14 such facilities have accounted for 281 cases of the virus and 48 related deaths.
As of Thursday, the total number of COVID-19-related deaths in Camden County stood at 58, making long-term care facilities accountable for 83 percent of local deaths related to the virus.
In a statement, Camden County Freeholder-Director Lou Cappelli said he was “horrified by the loss of life that has occurred in these institutions, and will be working with them to confront the spread of the virus head on.”
“These facilities, across the board were severely underprepared for the outbreak, and in many ways have suffered like so many other segments of the health care industry,” Cappelli said.
“It’s clear through our initial audits these facilities have a lack of testing, or no testing at all, a shortage of PPEs (personal protective equipment) and staffing shortfalls across the board,” he said, echoing statements from state health officials throughout the pandemic.
Currently, 111 long-term care facilities throughout the state are no longer admitting residents because they can’t properly manage COVID-19 patients and contain the infection within their sites, Persichilli said.
Murphy lambasted the operators of those facilities for failing their residents.
“You’ve got a vulnerable population, a deadly virus, and folks out there who aren’t doing what they should be doing,” the governor said. “We expect them to adhere to the code of conduct that you have signed onto.
“We expect, certainly in the midst of a healthcare crisis like this, that this is a minimum standard of care… and we will not relent on that,” he said.
Hospitalizations flattening, officials urge residents to stay the course
Asked about a timeline to reopen the state, Murphy again reiterated his position that New Jersey needs “nimble, scaled, quick-turnaround” COVID-19 testing and a healthcare infrastructure sturdy enough to support an elevated caseload of prospective patients.
He likened the reopening of the state to turning up a dimmer rather than flipping a light switch.
“We need to have confidence that we’ve broken the back of this virus; that we have healthcare infrastructure in place as we begin to open our state back up,” he said.
“This is a moral test for us all,” the governor said. “The last thing we can do is relax and get complacent.”
The governor also opined that, if schools are reopened in 2020, students, staff, and faculty could return to their academic routines in masks.
As New Jersey sees hospitalization counts flattening, “We are cautiously hopeful,” Persichilli said. However, she cautioned that the state hasn’t yet seen the peak of its caseloads, “and it’s coming.”
Murphy urged residents to stick to stay-at-home orders and take all possible social distancing precautions.
“Let’s remember that while we’re talking about really good progress and signs of really good daylight, it’s within our hands to either keep it that way or let your guard down,” he said. “If you let your guard down, you have to reassess peak worst case, best case.
“We’re still in the war,” he said. “In every war known to man, I believe this is true, somebody got killed on the last day. So please, stay at home, please keep your distance.
“This is in our control,” Murphy said. “It’s up to us. We let our guard down, all bets are off.”
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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