Coronavirus Update: As NJ Logs 200,000-Plus Infections, Officials Warn of ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ Wearing Down Resolve


Six months into the pandemic, New Jersey residents are feeling its effects even if they haven’t contracted COVID-19, as suspected drug-related deaths are up 12 percent year-over-year.

By Matt Skoufalos | September 21, 2020

NJDOH COVID-19 Dashboard – 9-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Another 396 New Jersey residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the statewide total to 200,154 cases, Governor Phil Murphy reported Monday.

Sadly, two more residents have perished from complications related to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 14,278 lives lost during the pandemic.

In addition to those lab-confirmed fatalities, the state has acknowledged another 1,791 probable COVID-19-related deaths.

In the past six months, 263 of every 100,000 New Jersey residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 162 of every 100,000 have died from COVID-19-related complications.

More than 3 million people have been tested for the virus statewide, with a 2.23-percent positivity rate per 100,000 residents.

Rate of transmission (Rt) at 1.12, spot positivity highest in South Jersey

The statewide average of COVID-19 spot positivity testing stood at 1.81 percent September 17; in South Jersey, it was higher, at 2.15 percent.

Rt, the variable that describes the seven-day, rolling-average rate of transmission of new COVID-19 cases, hit 1.12 from samples taken September 19.

An 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 COVID-19 spike, the highest reported RT in New Jersey was 1.48, recorded August 1. The lowest was 0.62, recorded June 9.

Long-term care accounts for half of all deaths, a fifth of those infected

Throughout New Jersey, 349 people currently are hospitalized with a case of COVID-19: 185 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 164 are awaiting confirmation of their symptoms.

Among those hospitalized patients, 87 are in intensive or critical care, and 32 of the ICU and critical-care patients (37 percent) are on ventilators.

Across the state, 697 long-term care (LTC) centers have reported at least one case of COVID-19, and 152 are dealing with an active outbreak. LTCs account for 38,561 infected patients and staff in New Jersey, or 20 percent of total cases.

That includes 25,035 residents and 13,526 staffers sickened by the virus, as well as 7,142 lab-confirmed resident and staff deaths (50 percent of the statewide total), with facilities self-reporting 121 staff deaths.

Of 656 veterans residing in a state-run home, 389 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 146 have died from complications related to the virus. Five veterans presently are hospitalized with COVID-19, and 243 have recovered from the virus.

At state-run psychiatric facilities, 214 of 1,196 patients and 519 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen patients and seven staffers have died from complications related to the virus.

To date, 57 New Jersey children aged 1 to 18 have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

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.

NJ Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli – COVID-19 Briefing 9-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

Persichilli warns of ‘pandemic fatigue’ impacts

Health officials also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of New Jersey residents.

Persichilli warned of “pandemic fatigue,” a combination of psychological effects, including “grief, uncertainty, [and]  isolation,” that she said New Jersey residents may be feeling after six months of the dealing with the virus.

“Pandemic fatigue may include feelings of exhaustion, weariness, helplessness, sadness, and irritability,” Persichilli said. Symptoms can include difficulty focusing, sleeping, eating, a lack of motivation, or becoming withdrawn.

In dealing with these, “social support is vital,” Persichilli said. She urged residents to “unplug from social media, go for walks, read a book, or try another activity that can help calm your mind.”

The health commissioner distinguished pandemic fatigue from “the willful ignorance of wearing a mask,” and reminded residents that they can’t relax their precautionary behaviors around the virus.

Persichilli also said health officials are seeing a year-over-year increase in suspected drug-related deaths. From January to July 2020, such deaths are up 12 percent over the corresponding period in 2019.

In response, the state health department is providing free naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug commonly known as narcan, from September 24 through 26 at select pharmacies throughout New Jersey.

The drug will be dispensed along with information about addiction and recovery through Reach NJ, which operates a 24-hour hotline (844-ReachNJ) for access to treatment.

Governor Phil Murphy – COVID-19 Briefing – 9-21-20. Credit: NJ Pen.

No second wave yet, but officials urge caution

Despite seeing an uptick in new COVID-19 cases and higher statewide positivity rates than those of only a few months ago, the state isn’t believed to be facing a second wave of the virus.

“We remain vigilant every day, throughout the whole state,” Persichilli said.

“Many other countries are looking at a surge in cases; I don’t think we’re seeing anything specific,” she said.

Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who directs New Jersey’s Communicable Disease Service, concurred, adding, “I do not yet see a second wave.”

For his part, the governor urged continued vigilance.

“The disease is with us,” Murphy said. “We have to collectively continue to mitigate what ‘with us’ means.”

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

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