New Jersey on Monday reported another 3,186 cases of the coronavirus and 29 additional confirmed COVID-19 deaths, while the state’s transmission rate dropped below the key benchmark of 1 for the first time in more than two months.
Gov. Phil Murphy revealed the numbers as he announced that he’s extending the state’s public-health emergency over COVID-19 for a 10th time. The order — which gives Murphy the power to take executive action to combat the virus’ spread — will last at least another 30 days.
Monday’s numbers showed some signs the second wave of the pandemic may be leveling off in New Jersey after a post-Thanksgiving surge. But Murphy noted that hospitalizations increased for the second straight day and warned residents “we are still recording some our largest daily numbers — on an everyday basis — since this pandemic began.”
“One day of (a transmission rate) below 1 isn’t worth a celebration,” he said during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton. “It’s worth us doubling down to pushing the Rt down further to the point where our daily numbers see a sustained drop.”
Murphy also stressed the next two weeks are “critical” as Christmas and New Year’s approach and called on people to keep celebrations small, with only members of your “immediate family bubble.”
New Jersey’s seven-day average for new positive tests is now 4,403 — down 12% from a week ago but up 12% from a month ago. The daily average has been above 4,000 since Nov. 23.
The state has reported 1,121 confirmed deaths in December, the most of any month since June.
The statewide rate of transmission dropped for the eighth straight day, from 1 to 0.99. That’s the lowest it’s been since Sept. 3. Any number over 1 means each person who gets COVID-19 is spreading the disease to more than one person, and getting the rate below 1 is key to suppressing the pandemic. The recent drops suggest the state has reached a possible plateau in new cases.
Statewide hospitalizations increased to 3,607 patients being treated for confirmed (3,371) or suspected (236) coronavirus cases as of Sunday night. That’s much lower than the more than 8,000 patients at the peak of the first wave in April — though total hospitalizations have been above 3,500 since Dec. 8 and are 25% higher than where they were on Thanksgiving, Murphy noted.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care increased to 727, with the number on ventilators rose to 481.
“In all of these important hospital metrics, we have, over the past several days, seen ups and downs,” Murphy said. “Each day that we see any decline is promising, but days like today where we see those gains reversed reminds we are bouncing within a rang. And it shows why the next two weeks are so critical.”
Pointing to the upcoming holidays, Murphy noted there were surges in cases and hospitalizations after Thanksgiving.
“I can’t put it any more plainly — this is not the year for Christmas-as-usual or New Year’s Eve-as-usual,” he said. “Please, even though I know we all want to, do not be holding a large, indoor family Christmas gathering or indoor New Year’s Eve party. We cannot take the risk of one — or both — of those celebrations leading to a spike in new cases and hospitalizations.”
Added state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli: “Don’t let the virus come into your home for the holidays. It is an unwelcome guest.”
The statewide positivity rate for Thursday, the most recent day available, was 10.78% based on 22,824 tests. The rate was 8.91% in the northern region of the state, 10.39% in the central region, and 14.17% in the southern region.
The number of new cases in New Jersey was down slightly for the week of Dec. 10-16, with the state adding 37.8 new cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents — a drop of just under 5% from the week before. Twelve of the states 21 counties added fewer cases than the week before.
That’s even as the U.S. added 49 cases per 10,000 residents — a 12.8% increase over the week before.
New Jersey has now reported 435,763 cases out of more than 7.1 million tests administered in the more than nine months since the outbreak started March 4, though those totals do not include rapid tests.
The state of 9 million residents has reported 18,223 deaths — 16,315 confirmed and 1,908 probable fatalities from complications related to the virus.
VACCINATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS
Numerous hospitals administered New Jersey’s first batch of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines to healthcare workers last week. As of 4 p.m. Sunday, 26 hospitals administered 8,704 doses to workers, Persichilli said.
Meanwhile, the federal Food and Drug Administration last week authorized the emergency rollout of a second vaccine, by Moderna, which is expected to begin its rollout this week. The Moderna vaccine is being shipped to 18 hospitals, two federally qualified health centers, and two urgent care centers in New Jersey to vaccinate healthcare workers, Persichilli said.
Officials said longterm care residents in New Jersey are expected to receive vaccinations starting Dec. 28 — but that’s a week later than other states because the state missed a federal deadline by one day. More than 7,000 residents and staff members at those facilities have died from coronavirus complications.
Persichilli said the state health department missed the deadline because of “the volume of information that had to be inputted” and said Monday “strict rules” from the federal Centers for Disease Control also complicated things.
Murphy defended his administration over the issue.
“Anyone who thinks this is a straight-line, easy task, that there aren’t gonna be bumps, twists or turns in the road is not paying attention to how complex this process is going to be,” the Democratic governor said. “It is one of the most ambitious federal government initiatives ever undertaken, and folks have to understand that.”
Republicans have lambasted the Murphy administration over the missed deadline. Doug Steinhardt, the former state Republican Party chairman who is now running for governor, has called for Persichilli to resign.
“How many more residents did Phil Murphy expose to infection because his Health Department couldn’t complete paperwork on time?” Steinhardt said in a statement Friday.
Murphy dismissed Steinhardt’s call Monday, saying “the last thing we need is people who don’t know what they’re talking about from the cheap seats.”
The state’s plan is for 125,000 residents and staff members to be vaccinated, starting next Monday with longterm care sites and including assisted living residences, state developmental facilities, and “thousands of group homes,” Persichilli said.
“This is a big program,” the health commissioner said. “It will take a while.”
Meanwhile, the state has announced plans to open six “mega” sites to distribute the vaccine as it rolls out inoculations in phases.
Murphy has said all options remain on the table to fight the second wave, though he said last week he does not plan for New Jersey to close indoor dining, which is currently limited to 25% capacity and a requirement that indoor service end at 10 p.m. each day. The state also allows counties and municipalities the ability to order bars and restaurants to close as early as 8 p.m. daily.
COUNTY-BY-COUNTY NUMBERS (sorted by most new)
- Middlesex County: 40,626 positive tests (394 new), 1,384 confirmed deaths (212 probable)
- Ocean County: 28,936 positive tests (295 new), 1,189 confirmed deaths (71 probable)
- Monmouth County: 28,237 positive tests (278 new), 868 confirmed deaths (96 probable)
- Bergen County: 43,370 positive tests (240 new), 1,992 confirmed deaths (256 probable)
- Essex County: 44,015 positive tests (226 new), 2,092 confirmed deaths (239 probable)
- Hudson County: 39,991 positive tests (224 new), 1,499 confirmed deaths (161 probable)
- Passaic County:37,685 positive tests (199 new), 1,249 confirmed deaths (146 probable)
- Morris County: 18,307 positive tests (188 new), 761 confirmed deaths (170 probable)
- Burlington County: 18,654 positive tests (187 new), 549 confirmed deaths (45 probable)
- Camden County: 25,955 positive tests (169 new), 701 confirmed deaths (58 probable)
- Union County: 34,388 positive tests (134 new), 1,332 confirmed deaths (173 probable)
- Atlantic County: 10,767 positive tests (108 new), 320 confirmed deaths (15 probable)
- Mercer County: 17,450 positive tests (98 new), 663 confirmed deaths (37 probable)
- Gloucester County: 12,600 positive tests (88 new), 339 confirmed deaths (8 probable)
- Somerset County: 11,589 positive tests (87 new), 561 confirmed deaths (84 probable)
- Warren County: 3,471 positive tests (58 new), 166 confirmed deaths (13 probable)
- Sussex County: 3,800 positive tests (52 new), 165 confirmed deaths (42 probable)
- Hunterdon County: 3,376 positive tests (40 new), 80 confirmed deaths (54 probable)
- Cumberland County: 3,376 positive tests (35 new), 193 confirmed deaths 6,903 positive tests (9 probable)
- Cape May County: 2,159 positive tests (25 new), 113 confirmed deaths (14 probable)
- Salem County: 2,405 positive tests (16 new), 99 confirmed deaths (5 probable)
The 3,607 patients hospitalized in New Jersey with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases as of Sunday night was 33 more than the previous night.
It includes 727 in critical or intensive care (19 more than the previous night), with 481 on ventilators (seven more).
There were 376 COVID-positive patients admitted to the state’s hospitals Sunday, while 306 patients were discharged, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Although hundreds of school districts have announced coronavirus cases and dozens of New Jersey schools have temporarily switched to all-remote classes since the start of the school year, state health officials have said 98 schools have had confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks.
There have now been 428 total cases of in-school transmission in those 98 schools since the start of the school year.
Those numbers do not include students or staff believed to have been infected outside school, or cases that can’t be confirmed as in-school outbreaks.
Though the numbers keep rising every week, Murphy has said the school outbreak statistics remain below what state officials were expecting when schools reopened for in-person classes. The extensive rules for schools, which include social distancing guidelines for classrooms and strict mask requirements, have made schools among the safest places in the state, he said.
Broken down by age, those 30 to 49 years old make up the largest percentage of New Jersey residents who have caught the virus (31.5%), followed by those 50-64 (24%), 18-29 (19%), 65-79 (11.2%), 80 and older (5.9%), 5-17 (6.7%), and 0-4 (1.4%).
On average, the virus has been more deadly for older residents, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Nearly half the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been among residents 80 and older (46.9%), followed by those 65-79 (32.6%), 50-64 (15.9%), 30-49 (4.1%), 18-29 (0.4%), 5-17 (0%) and 0-4 (0.02%).
At least 7,437 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been among residents and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That number has been rising again at a steeper rate in recent weeks.
As of early Monday afternoon, there were more than 77 million positive COVID-19 tests across the globe, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. More than 1.6 million people have died from coronavirus-related complications.
The U.S. has reported the most cases, with 17.9 million, and the most deaths, at more than 317,700.