As the delta variant surges, NJ is mandating vaccinations wherever it can, starting with healthcare staff and workers in congregate settings. Gov. Murphy says conversations with more labor groups will follow.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 2, 2021
Another 937 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 909,057 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.
New Jersey is also reporting 216 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 132,102 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, one more resident has perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 23,887 lives lost during the pandemic.
In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,719 probable COVID-19-related deaths.
Since March 2020, 1,034 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 272 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.
More than 14.691 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 10.329-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.
Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.43, spot positivity lower in South Jersey
The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 4.6 percent July 28; in South Jersey, it was lower, at 4.35 percent.
Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.43 on August 2.
Any 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. On May 21, 2021, it reached a new low, of 0.59.
Hospitalizations match levels last seen in mid-May
Throughout New Jersey, 540 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (77) or confirmed (463) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.
Among those hospitalized patients, 95 are in intensive or critical care, and 40 of the ICU and critical-care patients (42 percent) are on ventilators.
In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 91 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 51 others were discharged.
“That’s our highest intake since May 19,” Murphy said.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli reported that younger people are being hospitalized for COVID-19 as the delta variant continues to circulate. Presently, 19 New Jerseyans younger than 18 have been hospitalized with either a confirmed (13) or suspected (six) case of COVID-19.
Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,521 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 38 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 55,175 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 6.1 percent of total cases.
That includes 32,886 residents and 22,289 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 8,065 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (34 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.
Of 633 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 1,340 workers, one 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 1,133 patients and 1,080 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, 130 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC)—two 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.
Vaccination update: NJ surpasses 5M fully vaccinated people, 10.505M doses administered
Across New Jersey, 10.505 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered.
Throughout New Jersey, 5.143 million 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, 556,873 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.
An estimated 381,708 vaccine doses have been administered to New Jersey residents outside of the state, of which 165,296 residents 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. By mid-July, that number had increased to 5.019 people fully vaccinated at New Jersey vaccination sites.
NJ mandates vaccination or ongoing testing for healthcare, group living staff
Today, New Jersey unveiled a new mandate intended to help drive vaccination rates among workers in healthcare facilities and “high-risk, congregate settings,” Murphy said.
Staff at such sites must either complete a full vaccination schedule or submit to regular COVID-19 testing once or twice weekly at a minimum.
Facilities covered by the mandate include state psychiatric, developmental, correctional, long-term care, and assisted-living facilities; acute care and specialty hospitals; inpatient rehab centers; veterans homes; and licensed behavioral health facilities. All sites must be in full compliance with the mandate by September 7.
“Private facilities are strongly encouraged to consider instituting requirements above and beyond the baseline that will be required by the State,” the governor’s office noted in a statement accompanying the announcement.
The same release noted that officials will “work with union and labor partners ahead of the vaccine requirement deadline,” and that “private sector employers are encouraged to similarly work with labor partners as they implement their own vaccination and testing policies.”
During the briefing, Murphy specifically mentioned New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority as two such labor groups with which his office is having talks.
“We wanted to start out there, and you should expect that we would likely take steps and broaden out the universe over time,” the governor said. Without knowing specific head counts, he described the number of people affected by the new mandate as “many thousands.”
“The vaccines can’t make the coronavirus go away,” Murphy said. “But the vaccines are proving convincingly that they make the likelihood of a minor COVID illness much greater, and the chance of a hospitalization or death that much less.”
Vax mandates for healthcare as LTC outbreaks increase
Persichilli pointed out that the increase in COVID-19 cases has also reached long-term care sites in New Jersey, “which, as you know, are home to our most vulnerable residents,” she said.
Two weeks ago, there were 18 active outbreaks in New Jersey LTCs; today, they face 38 active outbreaks.
Overall, staff vaccination rates have climbed to 71 percent; however, in some facilities, that figure is as low as 33 percent, the commissioner said.
“We know that congregate care facilities are at greater risk,” Persichilli said. “Our healthcare providers don’t want to expose those they care for to any unnecessary risk.”
In her remarks on the need to increase vaccination rates among LTC staff, the commissioner referenced recent research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggesting that even vaccinated people who absorb a high viral load can transmit COVID-19 to others.
“Everyone should wear a mask in indoor public settings in areas of high risk and substantial public transmission regardless of your vaccination status,” Persichilli said.
NJ pursues new vaccine thresholds as delta variant surges
The move to mandate additional groups for vaccination or routine COVID testing comes amid a surge in new cases derived from the more contagious delta variant.
The widespread nature of the more virulent strain of the disease means that more New Jerseyans must be immunized to counteract its effects.
Murphy said Monday that inoculating 70 percent of the vaccine-eligible state population “was the floor” for COVID immunity, and that he’d like to see rates hit 80 to 85 percent.
“It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and this is a very transmittable, more lethal variant,” the governor said.
“The pool of the most vulnerable and exposed shrinks every day, but the variant is more aggressive in its pace than the pace of the pool shrinking,” he said.
“I know folks want certainty; I’m among the folks who want certainty. It’s a sobering reminder that this virus dictates the terms, and we’ll do everything we can to stay out ahead of it.”
Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who heads up the New Jersey Communicable Disease Service, said, in short: “the goals haven’t changed; the virus has changed.
“There is no single exact number that you can put it at, but the more infectious a virus is, the more people need to be immune to keep it from spreading around,” Lifshitz said.
“As the delta variant is more infectious, you need a higher percentage of people immune to keep it from spreading from person to person,” he said.
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