Governor Phil Murphy made emotional and logical appeals to residents to recognize the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, and asked for patience in reopening the state.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 18, 2020
Another 3,026 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 81,420, Governor Phil Murphy announced Saturday.
Throughout the state, 7,718 patients are hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or while awaiting the results of a test.
Of those, 2,024 are in critical or intensive care, and 1,641 are on ventilators.
Ninety patients are being cared for in New Jersey field medical stations, and as of 10 p.m. Friday night, 814 were discharged from state hospitals, either to a lower-acuity care setting, or to their homes.
Additionally, 231 more New Jerseyans have succumbed from complications related to COVID-19, bringing the statewide death toll to 4,070, Murphy said.
The seven state labs handling COVID-19 tests have processed 147,850 tests, of which 66,734 (45 percent) are positive.
New Jersey is seeing its curve of new cases start to flatten. Across the state, COVID-19 cases are doubling every 17 days on average; in Camden County, that rate is every 10.5 days. If the rate of new cases can slow, so too can the rate of hospitalizations, the governor said.
“The higher that number is, the better it is,” Murphy said. “It is literally almost a mathematical derivation exercise.”
Long-term care facilities could account for 40 percent of cases
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli reported that 125 of the new deaths have been associated with long-term care facilities throughout the state; 59 were from veterans homes, and seven were patients from psychiatric facilities.
Statewide, 40 percent of COVID-19-related deaths are associated with long-term care sites, Persichilli said, or 1,655 fatalities.
On Friday, the commissioner said that 48 of those deaths have originated in one of 14 long-term care facilities in Camden County, which has reported 58 deaths in total. That would make long-term care centers responsible for 83 percent of local deaths related to the virus.
Asked specifically about the Camden County death toll on Saturday, Persichilli said that 73 Camden County residents have died from COVID-19-related symptoms. On Friday, Camden County Freeholder-Director Lou Cappelli responded that the county government has confirmed only 35 deaths related to long-term care facilities, according to results from its medical examiner.
On Saturday, Camden County Communications Director Dan Keashen told NJ Pen that the county medical examiner will be working with the state Department of Health “to compare metrics, and try to harmonize that number” over the weekend.
He suggested that one possible reason for the discrepancy is a statewide mechanism for reporting COVID-19-related deaths in long-term care facilities
In Saturday’s state briefing, New Jersey Medical Director Edward Lifshitz said that there can be as much as a week-long lag in reporting deaths that occur in a long-term-care facility where there’s been a confirmed outbreak of COVID-19.
“Sometimes we’re including in those numbers people who have not been confirmed [by laboratory testing] but are associated with an outbreak [in a long-term care facility] which has been confirmed,” Lifshitz said.
‘This is literally life and death’
The governor spent a significant portion of the briefing making both emotional and logical appeals to critics of the shutdown, or those making false equivalencies between the impact of COVID-19 and that of influenza.
COVID-19 is more virulent than the flu, with the potential for asymptomatic individuals to infect untold others over a 14-day incubation rate; and more severe, with a hospitalization rate 100 times greater than that of the flu (10 percent versus 0.1 percent, respectively). Furthermore, antiviral and vaccine therapies that can deal with the flu haven’t yet been developed for COVID-19. Until widespread testing is available, the state is seeking to preserve its healthcare infrastructure with a shutdown.
“This is a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century,” Murphy said. “If you’ve been keeping your eyes or your mind closed to the facts and the science, please, I beg you to open them, and open them wide, before you, God forbid, become one of the numbers I report here every day.”
The governor also decried calls for the state to reopen as “completely, utterly irresponsible,” saying that if New Jersey relaxes its shutdown measures, “there will be blood on our hands.
“This is literally life and death,” the governor said.
“Why the heck would we make you not go to a park if it were not to try to protect the general health of the state?
“Anybody out there who thinks, ‘let’s just open the place up,’ will lead to lower infections, lower hospitalizations, and lower fatalities, is being completely, utterly irresponsible,” he said.
“We are doing this to try to keep infections as low as we can, keep hospitalizations as low as we can, and, please God, keep fatalities as low as we can,” Murphy said.
“The minute we see data, the minute we have healthcare infrastructure in place that allows us that scaled, rapid testing to take place, that allows us to do that contact tracing… we will be tweaking and/or reopening parts of New Jersey the minute we do have that confidence. Until then we have to trust each other.”
Murphy also appealed once more to the U.S. federal government to provide direct aid to states in addition to the federal municipal bond program that he said was needed “more now than we did 24 hours ago.” To do otherwise would lead to “unequivocally, a national disaster,” he said, including “layoffs that will be historic at the state, county, and local level.
“We need both direct federal assistance to states, and we will need bonding flexibility in either case,” the governor said.
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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