NJ COVID cases hit 'devastating' level unseen since first wave
Pfizer and BioNTech released early study results indicating that their vaccine prevented more than 90% of infections with the virus that causes COVID-19. USA TODAY
New Jersey recorded nearly 4,000 new cases of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday, one of the largest totals since the peak of the pandemic in April.
There were also 1,645 people hospitalized with the disease, the most since June, and 21 new confirmed deaths, he said.
"These numbers are devastating," Murphy said on Twitter. "We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe."
The latest figures came a day after Murphy announced new restrictions on bars, restaurants and sports intended to reduce transmission of the coronavirus as New Jersey deals with a second wave. He said more measures could come if warranted, but that he intends to avoid a widespread lockdown like the one in March, when the virus first reached the state.
The rise also came a day after Murphy vetoed legislation to provide supplemental payments to long-term care facility staff, who have been on the front lines of the pandemic. He said doing so would divert limited federal COVID-19 funding and that he has taken steps to provide more money to those facilities and workers, including approving minimum wage increases.
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With the addition in the past 24 hours of 3,877 new positive cases, the state's total climbed to 260,430, Murphy said. It was the most daily cases since April 23, when there were 4,247 new cases.
The new deaths brought that total to 14,661 confirmed by a lab, Murphy said, the most since July 28. The deaths announced on a particular day do not necessarily mean they all happened in the past 24 hours.
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According to the Department of Health's dashboard, the hospitalizations were concentrated in North Jersey, with 872, and the rest split evenly between Central and South Jersey, with about 400 each.
Even though Murphy added new restrictions, he and his health officials have had concerns about private gatherings and people suffering from what they've called "pandemic fatigue."
“Social gatherings are the highest-risk activities,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Tuesday in a lecture to students and alumni at Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “Most of them are occurring behind closed doors.”
In addition, there are currently 190 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities, a number Persichilli said “is really disturbing to me.”
“That’s in the face of all the safeguarding,” she said. “The residents don’t leave. It’s people coming in — visitors and employees who are bringing COVID-19 into long-term care and congregate living.”
The state's vaccine plans
With federal authorization for at least one vaccine expected soon, Persichilli said the state has plans in place “for a large-scale vaccination program that we hope will kick off by the end of December and go through July.” The state’s goal is to vaccinate 4.8 million people within six months of the vaccine’s approval.
The first federal vaccine shipment to New Jersey is expected to include 120,000 to 130,000 doses, Persichilli said, based on a conversation with Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine development program. That is enough for 60,000 to 65,000 people, because two shots are required to confer immunity. Health care workers and long-term care facilities will receive priority.
Another 130,000 doses will quickly follow, Persichilli said she was told Monday by Perna. And with several different vaccines for COVID-19 expected to be approved in January and February, she said, “the supply will definitely meet the demand.”
“This is going to be our way of life for at least another year,” Persichili said as she reminded the students and alumni at Rider that the only proven ways to prevent the spread of the virus are through wearing masks, frequent hand washing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Dustin Racioppi is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work covering New Jersey’s governor and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.