On April 7, New Jersey officials presented worst-case scenarios showing the Garden State could be stricken with as many as 59,000 cases of the coronavirus by early May and 36,000 related hospitalizations by late April as the peak of the pandemic.
A week later, officials said the peak could be about 16,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on April 25, though they stressed projections shift daily.
April 25 has arrived, and so far, the state’s outbreak hasn’t reached any of those points.
Instead, the state’s top health official said Saturday, something else has happened.
“As far as the peak, I think what we’ve actually done is flattened the curve, but it has spread it out,” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during the state’s daily coronavirus press briefing in Trenton. “And that’s exactly what we wanted to do to be able to handle the capacity, particularly our hospitals.”
“So we do expect to be seeing cases through May,” Persichilli added. “The number changes every day.”
As residents and businesses end their fifth week under lockdown orders, New Jersey officials have painted a slightly (and cautiously) rosier picture of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak in recent days — even though cases and deaths continue to rise.
Gov. Phil Murphy said those worst-case projections were “unfathomable” and there was “no amount of work we could have done” to ensure hospital capacity.
“The great news is: We have not lived that,” Murphy said Saturday.
But the governor stressed that residents cannot scale back on social distancing, even as the state see record unemployment grow, businesses deal with untold revenue losses, and the threat of historic public-worker layoffs.
While Murphy said a major goal of his orders for residents to stay home and nonessential business to close was to make sure hospitals weren’t overloaded, he has said repeatedly this week that he can’t begin lifting the restrictions. Otherwise, he said, the numbers could surge again and and spark a second wave.
“Please, God, don’t let your guard down,” Murphy said. “These models can change literally overnight.”
New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has seen at least 105,523 COVID-19 cases, with 5,863 deaths attributed to the virus, in the seven weeks or so since the outbreak started here March 4, officials announced Saturday.
That’s after the Garden State — one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots — reported another 3,457 positive tests and 249 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Still, as of 10:30 p.m. Friday, 6,722 patients with COVID-19 or under investigation for it were hospitalized in New Jersey. Murphy said the number has dropped every day since Thursday.
Of those patients, 1,917 were in critical care and 1,442 were on ventilators.
Officials have said New Jersey has 18,000 total hospital beds, including 2,000 in critical care, under normal circumstances, though the state has worked to vastly increase capacity because of the pandemic.
Between 10:30 p.m. Thursday and 10:30 p.m. Friday, there were 561 new coronavirus hospitalizations and 686 related discharges. Murphy said the state continues to see discharges exceed admittances.
The state’s high for overall coronavirus hospitalizations was 8,293 on April 14. The high for critical care patients was 2,069 on April 13. And the high for ventilator use was 1,705 on April 14.
But Persichilli emphasized Saturday that while the critical care numbers have “been flat for the past few days,” officials have yet to see a noticeable decrease. She said they have seen a drop of the most critically ill patients needing to be on ventilators.
And while the number of hospitalizations have dipped in North Jersey and stabilized in Central Jersey, South Jersey is actually seeing “a slight increase” as the outbreak moves down the map, Persichilli added.
“Those curves are all going largely in the right direction,” Murphy said Saturday. “We need them to go down aggressively.”
Edward Lifshitz, medical director of the state Health Department’s communicable disease service, said the state is looking for patterns among patients who report COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at emergency rooms. Lifshitz said the system isn’t perfect because it “misses some people,” but it “gives you a very good idea.”
He said those numbers “peaked up very quickly to a very high level” at the end of March and the beginning of April.
“And from there, we’ve been gradually decreasing and are on a steady decline,” LIfshitz said. “We’re not back down yet to the baseline before this started, but we’re doing a whole lot better than we were just a few weeks ago.”
Persichilli said she’s heard anecdotal evidence from hospital CEOS that the improving figures are partially because patients “are coming in at a time when the hospitals can intervene at an earlier stage of their disease.”
“I also think that … the extraordinary work of the physicians and the healthcare workers to kind of adjust to the new, novel virus and look at ways to do better care for them has helped,” the health commissioner added.
Murphy said “the biggest factor” is that residents have been adhering to his near-lockdown orders.
The governor said he will lay out a broad plan Monday for how to begin “responsibly” reopening the economy.
He says significantly increasing testing is key to begin gradually lifting his lockdown restrictions, as well as establishing contact tracing and quarantine plans.
Meanwhile, Persichilli provided the breakdown for coronavirus deaths where race and ethnicity is known:
- White 52.3%
- Black 20.3%
- Hispanic 16.3%
- Asian 5.2%
- Other 5%
And for the first time, she had the breakdown for at least 4,309 of those who are hospitalized:
- White 36.1%
- Hispanic 28.4 %
- Black 19.7%
- Asian 4.9%
- Other 10.8%