New Jersey Officials Go Over Contact Tracing Program Protocols

State officials walked through the framework for the contact tracing program New Jersey’s Department of Health will be charged with implementing in the coming weeks.

“We’ve worked hard to expand testing and contact tracing capacity,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at his daily press briefing on June 10. “This will not only put us firmly on the road back—but also ensure we stay there.”

With no proven therapeutics or a vaccine to thwart COVID-19, state officials said the only real protections New Jerseyans have against the coronavirus are social distancing, testing and contact tracing.

Beefing Up Tracers

There are approximately 900 contact tracers working in local health departments across New Jersey. The state anticipates bringing on at least 1,600 additional contact tracers by the end of June with capabilities to bring on as many as 4,000. The governor said there were about 50,000 who expressed interest in the positions.

Murphy stated the job of contact tracers in regards to COVID-19 is identifying the people who’ve been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for in the days immediately before their positive test result. Close contact is defined by being within six feet of someone for a period longer than 10 minutes. 

The job description for contact tracers is to notify people who’ve been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive. Once contact has been made, the tracers will urge an individual to get tested and walk them through the steps of self-quarantining to help prevent further spread.

Community Relations

“We’re working within our communities to establish and expand trust, and engage directly with residents and community leaders,” said Murphy

State Health commissioner Judith Persichilli stressed the need for contact tracers to be diverse due to the effect COVID-19 has had on communities of color. Officials believe hiring from the community will help any uneasiness residents may have in answering questions.

“We need to reflect the community they will be serving,” said Persichilli. 

As part of their training, contact tracers will have to first go through a 15-hour online curriculum developed and offered by Rutgers that includes a focus on interview skills, ethics, and privacy. The state will use dimagi’s CommCare platform statewide, chosen in part as it is being used in New York and Philadelphia to help with tracking across the region. 

Four Pillars

The tracing program has developed four pillars—consent, transparency, limits and security—that Murphy said will ensure success of the program.

For consent, tracers will only contact those individuals whose names they’re given by someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. There will be no penalty for those who do not comply in an investigation. 

Tracers are to be clear with how any contact information they’re given is used and handled. Contact tracers will be trained to only ask for the names and phone numbers of those they need to be in touch with. Personal information such as bank records, social security numbers and immigration status are not needed.

State Survey

Those seeking the information will be properly trained to prevent the leaking of any information provided to them. Murphy stressed one reason for the CommCare selection was the platform’s encryption and security functions providing an additional level of confidence against outsiders.

Persichilli said the health department is currently doing a survey of health department’s in the state to see where the biggest needs are, with deployment of the workers expected to begin the week of June 15.

Daily Data

As of June 10, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 164,796 with 375 new cases and 91 new deaths, bringing that total to 12,303. 

Of the total deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,723, followed by Bergen at 1,635, Hudson with 1,242, Passaic at 982, Morris at 626, Sussex at 149 and Warren with 135. 

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of June 5 rested at 3.4%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. By region, the north tested at 2.8%, the central at 3.8% and the south 3.9%.

Officials reported 1,701 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus—which included 156 new hospitalizations—while 171 patients were discharged. The north tier had 754 patients hospitalized, the central 530 and the south 417.

The daily discharge and new hospitalizations by tier for June 10 was the north charting 83 hospitalizations and 75 discharges, the central having 34 hospitalizations and 51 discharges, and the south reporting 39 hospitalizations and 45 discharges.   

Of those hospitalized, 471 are in intensive care units and 342 on ventilators. There are currently nine patients in field hospitals, with 474 treated overall. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 18,667, followed by Hudson at 18,647, Essex at 18,206, Passaic at 16,524, Union at 16,317, Middlesex at 16,288, Ocean at 9,100, Monmouth at 8,563, Mercer at 7,245, Camden at 6,903, Morris at 6,596, Burlington at 4,826, Somerset at 4,698, Cumberland at 2,604, Atlantic at 2,422, Gloucester at 2,357, Warren at 1,197, Sussex at 1,144, Hunterdon at 1,028, Salem at 687 and Cape May at 662.

Another 665 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 19% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state. 

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 59% had cardiovascular disease, 43% diabetes, 32% other chronic diseases, 17% neurological conditions, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for 9,941 confirmed deaths shows 47% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 33% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 4% under the age of 49. 

State officials are tracking cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children who in turn  test positive for COVID-19. No new cases were reported June 10, with the total cases remaining at 39 for children ranging in age from 1-18. All have tested positive for COVID-19 or have antibodies in their blood. One is currently hospitalized. No deaths have been reported from the disease. 

Persichilli stated “Black and Hispanic children account for a disproportionately high number” on a national scale. While only a small sample, Persichilli reported the racial breakdown in New Jersey was 34% Black, 38% Hispanic, 22% White, 6% Asian and 3% other.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 550 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and accounted for 34,799 of the cases, broken down between 23,225 residents and 11,574 staff. The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, which was 5,471 on June 10. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,215 residents deaths and 112 staff deaths. 

In a by-county breakdown:  

Bergen County

  • 63  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 3218 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 1662 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 920  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 11  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Essex County

  • 46  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 2132 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 1005 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 559  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 19  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Morris County

  • 42  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 1400 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 677 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 457  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 3  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Passaic County

  • 25  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 1245 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 732 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 365  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 14  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Hudson County 

  • 15  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 991 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 527 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 233  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 7  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Sussex County

  • 7  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 254 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 137 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 107  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 4  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Warren County 

  • 7  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 407 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 131 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 112  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 1  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

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