Plus: Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who heads up the New Jersey Communicable Disease Service, explains why ‘we’re not there yet’ in terms of comparing the severity of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 23, 2021
Another 213 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 891,840 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Wednesday.
New Jersey is also reporting 89 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 129,982 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, 10 more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 23,712 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,698 probable COVID-19-related deaths—eight more than previously reported.
Since March 2020, 979 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 270 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 14.407 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 10.138-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 0.99
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 1.3 percent June 23.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 0.99 on June 23.
Any 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. On May 21, 2021, it reached a new low, of 0.59.
Hospitalizations tick up slightly
Throughout New Jersey, 323 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (60) or confirmed (263) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 58 are in intensive or critical care, and 30 of the ICU and critical-care patients (52 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 42 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 40 others were discharged.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli noted that hospitals saw an increase of 21 additional patients in the past 24 hours, about 13 higher than the seven-day patient average.
“We will continue to monitor this,” Persichilli said. “Many of these new hospitalizations are due to individuals who are not vaccinated.”
The commissioner also noted that New Jersey COVID-19 positivity and testing rates have flattened over the past two weeks, where they previously had been on the decline.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,480 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 33 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 55,002 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 6.2 percent of total cases.
That includes 32,783 residents and 22,219 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 8,060 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (34 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.
Of 627 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. No resident is currently COVID-19-positive.
The facilities at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland are staffed by 1,338 workers, none of whom is presently COVID-19-positive. The facilities have sustained two staff deaths related to the virus.
At state-run psychiatric facilities, 367 of 1,131 patients and 1,079 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, 127 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 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.
Vaccination update: NJ surpasses 4.8M fully vaccinated people, 9M doses administered
Across New Jersey, 9.5 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered.
Throughout New Jersey, 4.595 people have been fully vaccinated in-state, 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, 516,716 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.
An estimated 565,742 New Jersey residents have received a vaccine dose outside of the state, of which 248,347 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.
As of June 2, 2021, the state had cleared 9 million administered doses and 4 million fully vaccinated New Jerseyans, and on June 18, hit 4.7 million vaccinated individuals, its target goal for 70 percent of the adult population of the state.
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:
- 88 percent of those 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, and 80 percent of them are fully vaccinated
- 76 percent of those aged 50 to 64 have received at least one dose
- 63 percent of those aged 30 to 49 have received at least one dose
- 53 percent of those aged 18 to 29 have received at least one dose
- 39 percent of those aged 16 to 17 have received at least one dose
- 33 percent of those aged 12 to 15 have received at least one dose
“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.”
Last week, he added that “there is only a pandemic among those who have yet to get their shot.”
“We won’t stop until we get to 70 percent in every county and every municipality,” Persichili said Monday.
Health officials still on the lookout for B.1.617.2 ‘delta’ variant
Mutated offshoots of COVID-19, or “variants of concern,” continue to circulate throughout New Jersey.
The state has traced thousands of such cases to date, despite performing gene sequencing only on roughly 2 percent of positive samples, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, head of the New Jersey communicable disease service, has said.
Persichilli noted last week that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) upgraded the status of the B.1.617.2 “delta” variant from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern.”
Initially identified in India in December 2020, B.1.617.2 has been detected in 66 countries, including in the United States.
It currently accounts for 7.3 percent of the variants sequenced in New Jersey in the past four weeks (up from 5.1 percent last week), and is believed to be 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than other strains of the virus.
Accounting for 10 percent of new cases in the United States, the delta variant could become the dominant strain in the country within the next month, and is believed to be spread by “children and young people,” Persichilli said Monday.
“The spread of this variant is another reason for us to remain vigilant to continue to strive to increase vaccine rates,” she said.
On Wednesday, the commissioner added that the delta variant “could result in local [COVID-19] surges among the unvaccinated.”
Presently, the most common COVID-19 variant in the United States is the B.1.1.7, or “alpha” variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, and has been detected in all 21 New Jersey counties. B.1.1.7 has been associated with a 50-percent increase in COVID-19 transmission over earlier strains of the virus detected in New Jersey, and likely increased severity of infection based on hospitalization and case fatality rates.
Strain B.1.526, which originated in New York state, represents 16 percent of the variants identified in New Jersey in the past month, and is a “variant of interest,” Persichilli said.
The P.1 “Brazilian” variant accounts for 3.5 percent of the variants identified in the past month, and smaller percentages of the California variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 also were reported among the variant data.
COVID-19 still twice as deadly as influenza
Asked whether New Jersey is close to regarding COVID-19 as something comparable in severity to seasonal influenza, Lifshitz said simply, “We’re not there yet.”
In a bad flu season, the state will lose roughly 1,000 residents to the virus, he said; currently, New Jersey is on track to lose twice as many people as that due to COVID-19 this year.
“Even now, when we are feeling good—and certainly, we are in a whole lot better place than we were several months ago—it is important to remember that we’re not there yet,” Lifshitz said.
“We have not yet gotten [the pandemic] down to a level that I would be happy with that would make this feel like a typical flu season,” he said. “We’re still not there yet.”
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