Health officials are working out a plan for widespread testing, starting with vulnerable populations living in close quarters. They think they have a chance to quell long-term care infections in South Jersey.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 21, 2020
Another 3,643 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 92,387 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Tuesday.
Sadly, New Jersey also sustained its largest single-day death toll from the virus, as another 379 residents perished from COVID-19-related complications, bringing the statewide total to 4,753.
Throughout New Jersey, 7,594 patients were hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed case of the virus.
Of those, 1,930 were in critical or intensive care, and 1,501, or 77 percent, were on ventilators.
New Jersey’s field medical stations were housing 72 patients as of Tuesday, and 630 patients were discharged from hospitals statewide to lower-acuity care centers, or to their homes.
Throughout the state, 167,323 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, and 74,884 are positive, for a 44.75 percent rate, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichill.
“We continue to see a trend emerging in the leveling of the rate of new cases,” Murphy said; however, even that “significant flattening of the curve” isn’t enough for the state “to go back to business as usual, not by a long shot.”
“We need to begin to see this curve finally start its decline,” the governor said, “so we must keep our strong social distancing policies in place for at least the next several weeks.”
Before the stay-at-home orders can be lifted, Murphy said New Jersey would “need testing capacity to at least double,” either with an infusion of federal capital, or widespread provision of rapid-response tests that can quickly identify whether a person is COVID-19 positive.
“We are reassessing the entirety of the testing regime right now… again, not just to lower infections… but also begin to figure out the pieces of that architecture that we need to be in place before we reopen,” the governor said.
‘Heavy hospitalization’ through mid-May
The path of the virus is decidedly southward, Persichilli said.
She noted that of the nine hospitals on divert Monday night, mostly for critical cases, five of them are in Central Jersey, versus the four in the northern part of the state.
“We’ve seen that increase come from the north, and most of the critical care beds in the central region are full,” Persichilli said.
“We expect this heavy hospitalization to go through mid-May,” she said.
Persichilli said the former Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury is on reserve to support overflow, non-COVID-19 patients as needed.
“It’s ready to go at a moment’s notice, and that’s exactly how we wanted it to stand up,” she said. “We have beds in reserve if we have to bring them up, and we will.”
The state is also bringing Salem Medical Center online “for higher-acuity med-surg patients,” Persichilli said.
As the virus progresses south, the Health Commissioner also noted an opportunity to implement new infection controls at long-term facilities, which have logged 11,527 COVID-19 cases and 2,048 deaths throughout New Jersey.
Protecting the state’s vulnerable populations might be easier in South Jersey, Persichilli said, because many long-term care facilities there “do not have significant spread,” of the virus.
“We do have a plan to target 16 or 20 long-term care facilities in the south, with the help of Cooper University, to test those individuals, cohort appropriately, and prevent further spread in the south of the state,” Persichilli said.
In addition to nursing home patients, Persichilli said the state plans to test the Rutgers University-developed saliva test first “in developmentally disabled homes,” followed by correctional facilities, and then healthcare workers. By studying the efficacy of the tests in populations that live in close quarters, she said New Jersey hopes to contrive “a full testing strategy for the larger group to help open up the state.”
Persichilli also offered a note on an uptick in calls from poison control centers across the country for overexposure to household cleaning products and disinfectants. She urged residents to follow product instructions, wear disposable gloves when cleaning, use only EPA-approved disinfectants, and properly ventilate while clearning.
Jersey for Jersey, student loan forebearance
On Tuesday, Murphy also highlighted another perk of the federal CARES Act: a minimum 90-day student loan forbearance.
The program also waives late fees, protects against negative credit reporting, ceases debt collection, and offers borrowers a chance to to enroll in other repayment programs.
“This is an initiative that servicers have opted into, and borrowers should contact servicers,” the governor said. “We expect additional servicers to sign on.”
Finally, Murphy shouted-out the Jersey 4 Jersey pandemic relief fund concert, airing 7 p.m. Wednesday, which will dedicate 100 percent of all funds raised to COVID-19 response efforts.
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