Coronavirus Update: 938,609 Infections, 24,033 Related Deaths; NJ Mandates Vax-or-Test Policy for State Workers, School Employees


Plus: full CDC approval of Pfizer vaccine means NJ will ready booster pipeline for immuno-compromised people.

By Matt Skoufalos | August 22, 2021

COVID-19 Dashboard – 8-22-21. Credit: NJDOH.

Another 1,443 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 938,609 cases confirmed via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

New Jersey is also reporting 316 new COVID-probable cases based on antigen tests, bringing the statewide total to 137,321 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, three more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide, confirmed death toll to 24,033 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 2,722 probable COVID-19-related deaths—two more than previously reported.

Since March 2020, 1,026 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 273 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 14.919 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 have been performed statewide, with a 10.660-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.23, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing based on PCR test results stood at 5.13 percent August 19; in South Jersey, it was highest, at 6.61 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average, statewide rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.23 on August 22.

Any Rt figure greater 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.

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

Hospitalizations trending up

Throughout New Jersey, 946 people currently are hospitalized with a suspected (65) or confirmed (881) case of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Among those hospitalized patients, 181 are in intensive or critical care, and 84 of the ICU and critical-care patients (50 percent) are on ventilators.

In New Jersey’s 71 critical care hospitals, 153 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 yesterday, while 117 others were discharged.

LTC update

Across the state, long-term care (LTC) centers have reported 1,610 cumulative outbreaks of COVID-19, and 113 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 55,670 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 6.1 percent of total cases.

That includes 33,128 residents and 22,542 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 8,447 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (34 percent of the statewide confirmed total), with facilities self-reporting 144 staff deaths.

Of 648 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; five staffers presently are.

The facilities at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland are staffed by 1,370 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, 372 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). 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 5M fully vaccinated people, 10.24M doses administered

Across New Jersey, 10.932 million COVID-19 inoculations have been administered.

Throughout New Jersey, 5.320 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, 576,621 doses have been administered; seventh-most in the state.

An estimated 397,431 vaccine doses have been administered to New Jersey residents outside of the state, of which 171,250 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.

Breakthrough cases remain minimal

COVID-19 breakthrough cases—instances of fully vaccinated people contracting the virus—”continues to be very small,” Murphy said.

For context, as of August 9, New Jersey was home to 5.116 million fully vaccinated people. Of those, 10,123 tested positive for COVID-19 infection, a breakthrough rate of one-fifth of one-percent (0.20 percent of all vaccinated New Jerseyans).

Two-hundred-seventy fully vaccinated people were hospitalized by a breakthrough case (0.005 percent), and 58 fully vaccinated people nonetheless died from complications related to the virus (0.001 percent) in that time period.

New Jersey remains home to 4.1 million unvaccinated, or not yet fully vaccinated, people.

NJ Vaccine or Test Mandate for State and School Employees. Credit: NJ Pen.

School, state employees required to vaccinate by Oct. 18 or be tested routinely

All pre-K through 12th-grade school district employees are required to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or else under regular COVID-19 testing once or twice a week at a minimum.

The order applies to all public, private, and parochial preschool programs, elementary and secondary schools, as well as charter and renaissance schools. It applies to administrators, educators, education support professionals, substitutes, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, and others.

The same vaccination policy applies to all state employees, including colleges, universities, and state agencies and authorities.

Murphy said school and state agencies will coordinate with state health officials for the testing and vaccination processes and any funds required to pay for them.

The governor said vaccination and masking mandates remain necessary to protect everyone from the Delta variant, which now may account for as much as 94 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in New Jersey, according to genetic sequencing studies.

Last week, Murphy pointed to the number of hospitalized American children as having hit a daily average of 1,234, climbing to as many as 1,900 children on some days, and having tripled in the past four weeks.

In New Jersey, 20 children are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, 13 with confirmed cases and seven under investigation.

“Yet some continue to mistakenly and dangerously grasp at the lie the kids can’t get COVID or that they spread COVID,” the governor said. “Neither of that is true.”

Roughly half of school-aged children older than 12 are vaccinated, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

During the briefing, Murphy again affirmed that New Jersey schools will not offer a remote option for students in the upcoming academic year, citing “overwhelming” learning loss between virtual and in-person educational settings. Should schools need to pivot to remote instruction, “We now know how to do this and we can do it very quickly,” he said.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – 8-22-21. Credit: NJ Pen.

CDC approval of Pfizer vaccine means NJ will establish ‘booster network’ for those in need

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued its full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine under the brand name Comirnaty.

The agency is also studying whether booster shots are needed, and has recommended that those with moderately to severely compromised immune systems should receive an additional shot of the vaccine after receiving their initial dose or doses.

“New CDC studies show waning COVID immunity over time; overall effectiveness declines from 92 to about 80 percent without [a booster],” Persichilli said, adding that even without a booster, the vaccine is “still effective against severe disease and death.”

The commissioner also promised that New Jersey “will have a network of booster sites” to provide those who will need them with additional doses of the vaccine. About three percent of the adult population of the United States is estimated to be moderately to severely immunocompromised.

Persichilli also warned about “a continuing rise in the number of outbreaks in nursing homes,” which she described as “very disturbing, because we know our immune systems weaken with age.”

According to the commissioner, 93 percent of those living in long-term care facilities are vaccinated, yet only 72 percent of the staffers who work at those sites have received their shots.

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

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