Coronavirus Update: 792,616 Infections, 21,869 Related Deaths; Outdoor Gathering Limits Expanded as NJ Hits 4M Vax Doses


Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli continued to warn of community spread of the virus, as the state is tracking 575 cases of variants of concern. Plus: enrollment in the NJ health insurance exchange is extended throughout 2021.

By Matt Skoufalos | March 29, 2021

NJDHS COVID-19 Dashboard – 3-29-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 3,174 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 792,616 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

New Jersey is also reporting 660 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 107,657 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, 16 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 21,869 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,535 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Since March 2020, 757 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 249 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 11.907 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with an 8.98-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.10, spot positivity lowest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 9.4 percent March 25; in South Jersey, it was lowest, at 8.50 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.10 on March 26.

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 creeping up again

Throughout New Jersey, 2,255 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (156) or confirmed (2,099) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 491 are in intensive or critical care, and 240 of the ICU and critical-care patients (49 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 276 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 253 others were discharged.

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,319 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 233 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 53,977 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 7.1 percent of total cases.

That includes 32,498 residents and 21,479 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,984 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, five 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, 111 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. Four of those cases were reported in Camden County, fifth-least in the state.

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, 2020, 205 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 947 individual cases have been traced to schools in 19 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 16 outbreaks have been linked to 74 cases, fourth-most in the state.

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

Vaccination update

On March 29, Murphy reported that New Jersey crossed the 4-million-dose threshold, as 4.03 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered to date, 2.638 million of which are first doses.

Throughout the state, 1.473 million people are fully vaccinated, having received either a one-shot formulation from Johnson and Johnson or both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

In Camden County, 245,524 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.

The first vaccines in the state were administered December 15, 2020; 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.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID Briefing 3-29-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

NJ records 575 cases of 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 575 such cases to date.

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.

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

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.

Roughly 2 percent of positive samples are being tested for variants, said Dr. Ed Lifshitz, head of the New Jersey communicable disease service, adding that state officials would like to increase testing to better be able to trace those variants.

In general, throughout the state, transmission of the virus “is pretty rampant right now,” Persichilli said, adding, “there is community spread.”

Outdoor gathering limits increase, 3-29-21. Credit: NJPEN.

Outdoor gathering limits expanded to 200 people

Starting at 6 a.m. Friday, April 2, outdoor gathering limits will increase from 150 to 200 people, Murphy said.

Unaffected by the changes are religious gatherings, political activities, weddings, funerals, and memorial services, all of which remain uncapped in an outdoor setting. The general indoor gathering limit remains capped at 25 people.

“As the weather gets warmer, we are urging people to engage in social activities outside wherever possible,” Murphy said. “Any type of larger gathering is safer for everyone if it can be held outside.”

Indoor venues of 2,500 fixed seats can now offer 20 percent of seating, up from 10 percent, and 30 percent, up from 15 percent, for outdoor venues. All spectators must remain masked and socially distanced.

Healthcare enrollment will remain open through December 2021

As per the terms of the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, more people than ever will qualify for financial help purchasing a plan under Get Covered NJ, the state healthcare exchange, Murphy noted.

To that end, the state will also keep its healthcare enrollment open via the exchange through December 2021, with premium reductions and financial help available for those who are unemployed or who’ve received unemployment benefits at all this year.

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

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