Nearly 13 months after its first positive test was reported, New Jersey has now surpassed 800,000 total cases of the coronavirus as officials Thursday reported another 4,699 confirmed cases and 30 additional deaths a day after declaring a third wave is now hitting the state.
Statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 dropped for the first time in four days, while nearly 1 in 4 adults in the Garden State have now been fully vaccinated.
In all, New Jersey has now reported 804,037 coronavirus cases out of more than 12.17 million PCR tests in the year since the state reported its first case on March 4, 2020. There have also been 110,385 positive antigen tests, including 1,251 reported Thursday. Those cases are considered probable, and health officials have warned that positive antigen tests could overlap with the confirmed PCR tests because they are sometimes given in tandem.
The state of 9.2 million people has reported 24,591 residents have died from complications related to COVID-19 — 22,023 confirmed deaths and 2,568 fatalities considered probable.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced the update on social media, a day after the state released new models predicting the current surge may not peak until mid-April in a moderate scenario and mid-May in a worst-case scenario.
New Jersey health facilities and vaccine centers have now administered more than 4.35 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the state’s first shot was given Dec. 15. That includes about 2.71 million people with at least one dose and 1.63 million people considered fully vaccinated, according to state data.
It also marks the third straight day — and the fourth time in a week — the state has announced more than 4,000 cases in one day.
The number of coronavirus patients across the state’s hospitals fell to 2,292 as of Wednesday night. After dropping below 2,000 late last month, hospitalizations had been slowly creeping up the last two weeks.
The state’s rate of transmission fell to 1.08, down from 1.09 the day before. Any number over 1 indicates that the outbreak is growing, with each new case leading to at least one other case.
The latest statewide positivity rate was 13.86% on Sunday, the day with the latest data, on 21,737 tests. The number of tests are usually lower on weekends, which could drive up the percentage.
Officials said Wednesday younger people are at the center of the new wave as older residents are more likely to be vaccinated. The state has recently seen a 31% increase in people ages 20 to 29 being hospitalized and a 48% increase in those 40 to 49.
The virus has proven to be more deadly among older residents, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Officials, however, stress younger people can still get severe cases and can still pass the virus to others.
According to the state’s prediction models released Wednesday, New Jersey would peak at 5,405 cases and 2,669 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on April 18 in a moderate scenario.
The state would peak at 8,162 cases and 3,644 people hospitalized on May 18 under a high scenario. Murphy said the moderate scenario is more likely.
State Heath Commissioner Judith Persichilli said hospitalizations likely won’t reach the levels they did during the first wave last spring (when more than 8,300 patients were hospitalized at the peak), and the state now has adequate supplies to battle the pandemic. But daily deaths are expected to increase and the state could experience a “very slow recovery” over the summer, she said.
“There is still an uncertainty ahead with this relentless virus,” the health commissioner added.
Despite the recent case upticks, the state is set to increase its outdoor gathering limit to 200 people as of 6 a.m. Friday. The indoor gathering limit will remain 25 people. In addition, venues that can seat 2,500 people will be permitted to increase indoor seating capacity to 20%, up from 10%, and outdoor capacity to 30%, up from 15%.
There were 2,292 patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases across New Jersey’s 71 hospitals as of Wednesday night — 71 fewer than the previous night.
That included 437 in critical or intensive care (21 fewer than the night before), with 237 on ventilators (1 more).
There were also 340 COVID-19 patients discharged Wednesday.
By comparison, hospitalizations peaked at more than 8,300 patients during the first wave of the pandemic in April and more than 3,800 during the second wave in December.
New Jersey has reported 221 in-school coronavirus outbreaks, which have resulted in 1,002 cases among students, teachers and school staff this academic year, according to the state’s dashboard.
The state defines school outbreaks as cases where contact tracers determined two or more students or school staff caught or transmitted COVID-19 in the classroom or during academic activities at school. 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.
There are about 1.4 million public school students and teachers across the state, though teaching methods amid the outbreak have varied, with some schools teaching in-person, some using a hybrid format and others remaining all-remote.
Murphy last week announced most New Jersey schools can move classroom desks three feet apart, instead of six feet, under new social distancing guidelines.
The governor also said the state’s schools will return to full in-person classes for the next school year and districts will not be allowed to offer virtual learning, even for parents who want that option due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. But Murphy clarified Tuesday that students and teachers who have health issues that could put them at greater risk of a serious coronavirus case will have a virtual option.
Broken down by age, those 30 to 49 years old make up the largest percentage of New Jersey residents who have caught the virus (30.9%), followed by those 50-64 (22.9%), 18-29 (19.8%), 65-79 (10.5%), 5-17 (9.2%), 80 and older (4.6%) and 0-4 (1.9%).
On average, the virus has been more deadly for older residents, especially those with preexisting conditions. Nearly half the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been among residents 80 and older (46.9%), followed by those 65-79 (32.88%), 50-64 (15.68%), 30-49 (4.06%), 18-29 (0.37%), 5-17 (0%) and 0-4 (0.02%).
At least 7,989 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been among residents and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
There are active outbreaks at 225 facilities, resulting in 3,676 active cases among residents and 4,366 among staffers. Those numbers have been slowing as vaccinations continue at the facilities.