Plus: Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli outlined updated guidance for long-term care (LTC) center visitors, residents, and staff that includes additional opportunities for those who’ve been vaccinated.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 12, 2021
Another 925 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 881,635 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
New Jersey is also reporting 242 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 127,458 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, 33 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 23,234 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,648 probable COVID-19-related deaths—eight more than previously reported.
Since March 2020, 879 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 264 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 13.9 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 10.023-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.0, spot positivity higher in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 4.7 percent May 8; in South Jersey, it was higher, at 4.93 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.0 May 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. Prior to artificially low, adjusted reports of 0.34 in the first week of May , the lowest in the past year was 0.62, recorded June 9, 2020.
Hospitalizations continue to decline
Throughout New Jersey, 1,041 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (97) or confirmed (944) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 247 are in intensive or critical care, and 162 of the ICU and critical-care patients (66 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 99 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 139 others were discharged.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,447 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 197 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 55,137 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 6.2 percent of total cases.
That includes 32,913 residents and 22,224 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 8,041 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (35 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.
Of 615 veterans residing in three state-run homes, 456 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 156 have died from complications related to the virus. Three hundred veterans have recovered from the virus.
The facilities at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland are staffed by 1,344 workers, three of whom are presently COVID-19-positive. The facilities have sustained two staff deaths related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 638 of 1,125 patients and 1,075 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and eight staffers have died from complications related to the virus.
MISC cases and schools
To date, 116 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC). Four of those cases were reported in Camden County, tied with Cumberland and Monmouth Counties for third-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, 281 COVID-19 outbreaks encompassing 1,263 individual cases have been traced to schools in all 21 New Jersey counties. In Camden County, 18 outbreaks have been linked to 78 cases, sixth-most in the state.
Vaccination update: NJ surpasses 3.7M fully vaccinated people
Across New Jersey, 7.754 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered.
Throughout the state, 3.701 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, 431,591 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.
An estimated 357,974 New Jersey residents have received a vaccine dose outside of the state, of which 163,498 are estimated to have been fully vaccinated.
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.
On March 29, New Jersey crossed the 4-million-dose threshold, and the state cleared 5 million doses over the weekend of April 10, 2021. Eight days after that, New Jersey hit the 6-million-dose mark. By May 3, 2021, the state had cleared 7 million doses administered.
The state is working to make access to vaccinations easier to come by, facilitating walk-up vaccinations at its vaccine megasites—no appointments necessary—and incentivizing inoculations with free beers at participating craft breweries through the statewide “Shot and a Beer” program.
NJ records 3,855 cases of variants of concern
Mutated offshoots of COVID-19, or “variants of concern,” continue to circulate throughout New Jersey; the state has traced 3,855 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 detected in all 21 New Jersey counties.
In total, 3,566 B.1.1.7 cases have been spotted in the state.
It’s associated with a 50-percent increase in COVID-19 transmission over earlier strains of the virus detected in New Jersey, and likely increased severity, based on hospitalization and case fatality rates, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has said.
New Jersey also has recorded 123 cases of the P.1 “Brazilian” variant, 11 reports of the B.1.351 “South African” variant, and 155 reports of the California variants B.1.427 and B.1.429.
The South African variant has demonstrated a 50-percent increase in transmission over other strains of COVID-19, and the California variants appear to show a 20-percent increase in transmission of the virus.
An unknown number of cases has also been reported 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.
Outlier COVID-19 cases
In addition to commonly reported data points, New Jersey health officials are tracking COVID-19 outlier statistics, including the number of residents who’ve suffered repeat infections of the virus, and those who constitute “breakthrough” cases; i.e., those who test positive for the virus at least two weeks after having been completely vaccinated.
There are technical issues around calculating these data, Lifshitz said, including communications among various vaccination repositories, and complications related to testing positive as recovered persons continue to shed viral particles. However, he said that officials “do have a general idea” about this information, and expects to be able to report it “within the next week or so.”
New Jersey ready to roll out Pfizer vaccine for 12-15-year-olds
In anticipation that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will approve use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, Murphy noted Wednesday that “every New Jersey resident within this age group would be eligible to receive Pfizer’s vaccine wherever it is administered” within the state.
“This will be a big step forward for public health, in particular for the health of our school communities,” the governor said, adding that although “our youngest residents have among the lowest rates of hospitalizations and deaths, they have had among the greatest rates of transmission.
“[Adolescent vaccinations] will be a big step that will allow for students and educators to feel more confident in being in their classrooms for the remainder of this year, and it will set us up for every school to be fully back for in-person instruction in September,” Murphy said.
“It will also be a big part of the overall picture for opening up [the state]more fully and more quickly.”
Persichilli added that juvenile vaccinations require the consent of a parent or guardian, and also urged adolescents to be vaccinated.
“We have seen, in rare cases, children can get very ill with this virus,” the health commissioner said, including the 116 New Jersey kids who required hospitalization after a diagnosis of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
Reduced restrictions for vaccinated LTC residents and staff
Vaccinated residents of New Jersey long-term care sites will soon enjoy greater freedoms than their unvaccinated peers, as the Department of Health adjusts its guidance for such facilities “to accommodate more visitation, group activities, and the provision of services for residents after vaccination,” Persichilli said.
Fully vaccinated residents and their fully vaccinated visitors “may choose to have close contact—touching, hugging—with masks off,” she said.
Fully vaccinated residents also may participate in communal dining and group activities without physical distancing and without masks.
Routine COVID-19 testing of LTC residents and staff has been required, but those who are fully vaccinated staff don’t have to be regularly tested; unvaccinated staff must still be tested once or twice a week, depending upon the regional CALI score of the area in which the facility is located.
Staff also must undergo testing in the event of an outbreak within a facility or when experiencing symptoms. Finally, “non-essential personnel” like hair stylists and barbers can enter LTCs to deliver their services if a site has pandemic precautions in place, including masking, sanitization, and routine COVID testing.
“It’s going to be a lot more convenient to be vaccinated and a lot more inconvenient to be unvaccinated,” Murphy said.
Push to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations
On Monday, Murphy said that New Jersey “will have to scrap” to get another half-million residents vaccinated against the virus by the end of June 2021; to that effect, the governor announced the onset of an $8-million, door-to-door canvassing campaign to get “more boots on the ground” in dense communities with low vaccination rates.
No answers were immediately available about how those dollars will be spent, however he promised more to follow next week.
In addition to advising parents and guardians of adolescents to get their kids vaccinated when the opportunity presents itself, Persichilli also said more New Jersey men should follow suit.
Across the state, 54.4 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are of male New Jersey residents, and only 46 percent of New Jersey men have lined up to get vaccinated. The commissioner also pointed out that young Hispanic men are three times more likely to die from COVID as their white counterparts, and black men and women are twice as likely to suffer death from the virus.
Citing the historic household influence that women have held over family healthcare decisions, Persichilli urged them to “use your power” to drive greater vaccination rates among the men in the state.
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