Coronavirus Update: 883,272 Infections, 23,327 Related Deaths; Murphy to End Public Health Emergency, Keep Indoor Mask Mandate for now


Plus: New Jersey public schoolchildren will return to in-person education in the fall.

By Matt Skoufalos | May 17, 2021

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 5-17-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 490 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 883,272 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

New Jersey is also reporting 66 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 127,834 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, 13 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 23,327 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,648 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

Since March 2020, 881 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 265 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 14.009 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 10.043-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.59, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 2.73 percent May 13; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 3.05 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 0.59 on May 15.

An Rt figure less than 1.0 means that each new COVID-19 patient is infecting fewer than one other person, on average, and the spread of the virus is decreasing.

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.

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

Hospitalizations hit seven-month low

Throughout New Jersey, 827 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

It’s the fewest number of hospitalized patients in the state since October 2020.

Among those hospitalized patients, 188 are in intensive or critical care, and 125 of the ICU and critical-care patients (66 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 70 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 111 others were discharged.

“At this moment, we are as good if not better than any state in America in winning this war,” the governor said. “Look how far we’ve come; we still have more to do.”

LTC update

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,454 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 195 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 55,150 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 6.2 percent of total cases.

That includes 32,905 residents and 22,245 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 8,045 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (34 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.

Of 618 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 1,343 workers, five 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, 121 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC)—five more than previously reported. 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 for the illness.

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.

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

Vaccination update: NJ surpasses 3.8M fully vaccinated people

Across New Jersey, 8.023 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered.

Throughout the state, 3.867 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, 445,149 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 165,348 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, and two weeks later, it had surpassed 8 million doses.

New Jersey 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 Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID Briefing 5-17-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

NJ records 4,128 cases of variants of concern

Mutated offshoots of COVID-19, or “variants of concern,” continue to circulate throughout New Jersey; the state has traced 4,128 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, 3,814 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 145 cases of the P.1 “Brazilian” variant, 11 reports of the B.1.351 “South African” variant, and 158 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.

On Monday, Persichilli said early reports indicate that breakthrough cases seem to be statistically small: just 0.02 percent of those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 have contracted the virus afterwards.

However, “We do need vaccination uptake to increase in our state,” the health commissioner added, particularly among younger residents.

According to Persichilli, the percentage of New Jerseyans who have received at least one vaccine dose varies by age, with the oldest residents accounting for the bulk of inoculations:

  • 86 percent of those 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose
  • 71 percent of those aged 50-64 have received at least one dose
  • 57 percent of those aged 30 to 49 have received at least one dose
  • 44 percent of those aged 18 to 29 have received at least one dose
  • 28 percent of those aged 16 and 17 have received at least one dose


In addition, 21,964 12- to 15-year-olds (about 4.6 percent of the 457,000 New Jersey residents in that age group) have already begun getting vaccinated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approval of the Pfizer vaccine for younger Americans last week.

“Fully vaccinated people are much safer to engage in everyday life than unvaccinated people,” Murphy said, encouraging residents to “get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

New Jersey schoolchildren will return to in-person learning exclusively in the fall of 2021. Credit: Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy: in-person learning exclusively next school year

All school-aged children in New Jersey will return to in-person education for the 2021-2022 academic year, the governor announced Monday, overriding an executive order allowing for alternative education options—i.e., fully remote learning opportunities—that he had established in August 2020.

“Through this action, we are declaring that all students will be back in school for full-time, in-person instruction come the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” Murphy said.

“Further, this announcement also includes the removal of the full-time remote learning option for families,” he continued. “Next year, parents will not be enabled to broad-scale opt their child out of in-person instruction.”

In explaining his reasoning, the governor noted that New Jersey educators and administrators “are facing a much-different world than one year ago when we had to begin planning for this school year,” and cited an additional year’s worth of information on COVID-19, the robust, statewide vaccine roll-out, and the availability of vaccines for children as young as 12.

Gov Phil Murphy – NJ COVID Briefing 5-17-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

Mask mandates, travel advisory, final extension of public health emergency

As pandemic conditions in New Jersey continue to improve, Governor Murphy clarified a handful of changes to statewide rules.

On Friday, Murphy announced that he was extending for (hopefully) a final time the public health emergency first declared March 9, 2020.

In collaboration with state legislators, the governor said he’s working to sunset the action next month “while at the same time providing a path forward to ensure that we maintain the necessary tools to protect the public’s health and safety for the duration of the pandemic.”

In a similar vein, New Jersey will no longer maintain its travel advisory, which had required a COVID-19 test for those visiting the Garden State or for residents returning home after extensive interstate travel. Murphy said that officials encourage residents “to continue to exercise common sense when traveling domestically, and to follow all health and safety protocols wherever you are traveling to.” International travelers should adhere to the guidance posted by the U.S. Department of State, he added.

Finally, Murphy said the state will still require everyone to wear face coverings in indoor, public spaces. That regulation is important, as the majority of New Jersey residents are as yet unvaccinated, and confrontations among patrons and staff of small businesses is where most mask battles are still fought.

“I don’t know how we can expect workers to tell who’s vaccinated from who isn’t, and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and frontline employees to police every patron,” the governor said.

“And certain high-risk settings like LTCs, correctional facilities, childcare, and summer school, will continue to require or strongly encourage masks for individuals,” recommendations he said that are supported by CDC guidance.

“This virus is on the run,” Murphy said. “A little bit longer here, and we accelerate our ability to drive this virus into the ground.

“We have been at the epicenter of this pandemic twice,” he continued. “We have crushed the curve twice. We are determined to make sure that there is not a third time.”

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

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