As the discharge rate begins to exceed the rate of new hospitalizations, social distancing efforts are making a difference, but it’s too early to talk about reopening the economy, Governor Murphy says.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 20, 2020
Another 3,528 New Jerseyans have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), for a total of 88,806 residents statewide, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
Sadly, another 177 residents have lost their lives to COVID-19-related complications, for a statewide total of 4,377 in the pandemic.
Throughout the state, 6,986 residents are hospitalized, either with a confirmed case of the virus or while awaiting COVID-19 test results.
Of them, 2,018 are in critical or intensive care, and 1,594 are on ventilators, Murphy said.
In the past 24 hours, 583 patients have been discharged from New Jersey hospitals, either to a lower-acuity care center or to their homes. Seventy-four New Jerseyans are receiving care at a field medical station in the state.
Finally, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli noted that 11,000 residents in total have been discharged from hospitals since March 31.
‘We have achieved relative stability’
As the discharge rate begins to exceed the new hospitalization rate and the doubling rate of new cases stretches on, Murphy pointed to a glimmer of hope that social distancing efforts are starting to effect downward pressure on the spread of the virus in the past three weeks.
“We have achieved relative stability,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean we’re not going to see some days with relative spikes or drops, and we must move away from looking at snapshot data and start looking at overall trend lines.”
The growth rate of hospitalizations will inform New Jersey’s economic reopening strategy, which the governor said must safeguard against any potential recurrence of this virus later in 2020, and a presumed spike in new cases after any reopening.
Without widespread, rapid testing, however, “a second, boomerang wave,” of new cases “is a real possibility with a virus like this, even if we do everything exactly right,” Murphy said.
“We must prepare for all these scenarios,” Murphy said. “We know that these types of viruses can mutate and come back worse for Round Two.”
Reopening the state economy today “would backfire on us in two respects,” the governor said: “a large spike in COVID-19 cases, and no customers at our stores because people are still fearful for their health and those of their kids and families.”
“Personal health creates economic health,” Murphy said, adding that New Jersey will align its reopening plans with those of its peers in the seven-state Northeastern coalition of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Massachusetts, so that “as one of us begins to reopen we don’t inadvertently expose each other to more cases of COVID-19.
“Consumer confidence—the willingness of people to go out and shop, to eat out; for workers to feel confident that their workplaces are secure—only comes when people are convinced that their health is secure,” he said.
The governor urged New Jerseyans, “please don’t let your guard down,” highlighting the “benign” behaviors of relaxing social distancing guidance as undermining the statewide recovery.
“Public health trumps everything else,” Murphy said. “We don’t get economic health, we don’t get educational, back-in-the-schools health without personal health.”
Field stations could quarantine homeless, medically complex patients ‘for the next 12 months’
In addressing the failings of long-term care facilities to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 among their staff and charges, a key factor may be the number of nursing aides who could have unwittingly spread the virus while working at multiple sites.
Persichilli suggested this factor may be driven by the number of aides who work at more than one facility to make ends meet.
“There’s a reason why they’re working at several places,” she said. “It’s because the wages are not enough to support what they need to do to support their families; to put food on the table. They’re working their little hearts to the bone here just trying to survive.
“What I’d rather do is take better care of them, making sure that they understand their own health and well-being, and how that’s transferred to whatever patient they’re taking care of at whatever facility,” Persichilli said.
“They’re not compensated what they should be compensated, and they’ve not been going in with the armor that they need,” Murphy added.
Persichilli also noted the number of COVID-19 patients at field sites in Secaucus and Edison who are “medically and socially complex,” and therefore can’t be cared for at home.
Many suffer from complex chronic illnesses, mental health disorders, are non-English-speakers, and are separated from their families and social networks, Persichilli said. Several housed there presently were most recently staying in homeless shelters.
Her remarks underscored how the variety of people hit the hardest by the virus—including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions—were already socially vulnerable before the pandemic.
Those risk factors are unlikely to change, she said, making the Atlantic City Convention Center site, which will open soon, a necessary one. It could likely serve as a quarantine facility for people who are asymptomatic but COVID-19-positive, and “who cannot go back home, or perhaps will not have a home to go back to,” she said.
“We’re not only preparing for right now, we’re preparing for the next 12 months, to be honest,” Persichilli said.
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