NJ COVID hospitalizations surpass 6,000 for first time since April 2020
Scenes of health care workers in the ICU at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck treating COVID patients during the omicron wave in January of 2022. NorthJersey.com
The number of people hospitalized with COVID in New Jersey reached more than 6,000 on Sunday night in one of the largest one-day increases of the current wave of the pandemic.
The 6,075 COVID patients in the hospital marked a single-day jump of 328, and is the most since April 29, 2020, during the initial wave of the pandemic.
Current state modeling projects that hospitalizations will peak at about 8,000 by the end of the third week of January, and could stay at high levels for several weeks before starting to decline in early February, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday also reported 29 more COVID-related deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed or probable COVID deaths to 29,494 since the pandemic began 22 months ago.
And Murphy said there were 21,691 new COVID infections confirmed by PCR tests and 2,344 confirmed through antigen tests. That marks 13 straight days with the daily new case count above 20,000, but the fourth straight day with lower numbers than the prior day. Persichilli said they expect the daily case count to remain in the 20,000 to 30,000 range through the rest of the month. Cases usually start declining seven to 14 days before hospitalizations start to decline.
Many of those currently hospitalized are in need of more intensive care. The number in the ICU reached 843, a 31% increase since Jan. 2, while 474 needed the help of a ventilator to breathe, a 62% increase in that period. By comparison, overall hospitalizations for COVID increased 29% since Jan. 2.
While omicron is a significant driver of hospital capacity, it’s not the only factor stretching hospitals and their care teams. Flu activity is high, and hospitals also continue to respond to other seasonal ailments.
Many hospitalized patients who have COVID were admitted to the hospital because of other medical conditions. Of the 6,075 currently hospitalized with COVID, 2,963 of them — about 49% — are hospitalized primarily because of their COVID diagnosis. The rest were hospitalized for other reasons, and then tested positive for COVID in the hospital.
But those with COVID who are hospitalized for other illnesses still pose a complication for hospitals, since they must be isolated in COVID-only parts of the hospital, away from other patients. In addition, COVID becomes a condition that could exacerbate their principal diagnosis, Persichilli said.
Among those hospitalized are 82 children with COVID, though the virus was the primary diagnosis for 27 of them, Persichilli said.
Even as they must deal with growing numbers of patients, hospitals are also grappling with serious staff depletions due to COVID. On Sunday, there were 340 new infections among staff, who must then isolate at home for five days. That comes on the heels of 469 new cases Saturday, and 586, 853 and 851 new cases in the previous days.
Hardest hit over the past 30 days has been University Hospital in Newark, with 645 workers infected, followed by St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson with 597, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick with 588, Hackensack University Medical Center with 559, St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton with 449, Morristown Medical Center with 420 and Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus with 382.
Hospitals have been shifting administrators into support roles to adjust, and they have also postponed non-emergency surgeries. The state also requested strike teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help.
St. Joseph’s Wayne Medical Center expects to get 13 hospital beds from the state Office of Emergency Management, as part of its preparations for a surge in patients due to the omicron variant. “They aren’t needed, as of yet,” said Kristen Agnes, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph’s Health.
The beds had been used in field hospitals set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the pandemic’s first wave in 2020, and they now are being allocated among hospitals around the state to add to their capacity.
They will be indoors — not in tent hospital additions — “and will be staffed by our employees,” Agnes said.
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Making things somewhat easier is the fact that during the current wave, driven in part by the omicron variant, patients have been improving more quickly and staying for shorter periods than during earlier waves of the pandemic.
But patients needing the most intensive care remain far and away those who are unvaccinated. Persichilli said that of those currently hospitalized, 68% are not vaccinated or are only partially vaccinated, and 32% are fully vaccinated.
Hackensack Meridian Health reported on its Facebook page last Wednesday that of the 1,062 COVID patients its 11 hospitals were treating, 55% were not vaccinated.
Even more telling, among those needing ICU care, 68% were not vaccinated, and of those needing a ventilator to help them breathe, 74% were not vaccinated.
Long-term care facilities in New Jersey face their own shortage of staff as COVID infections spread among workers and residents. There are currently outbreaks at 522 long-term care facilities, with infections among 6,769 residents and 9,709 employees. Beginning today, 150 National Guard personnel are supplementing staff in more than a dozen nursing homes, helping with basic tasks.
The worst outbreak has been at Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center, formerly Andover Subacute II, in Sussex County, with 213 cases among residents, 119 cases among staff and three deaths among residents.
Staff Writer Lindy Washburn contributed to this story.