Governor Phil Murphy holds a coronavirus briefing in Trenton on March 18, 2020 (Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office).

Murphy, NJDOH Officials Plead for COVID-19 Protocols to be Followed During Holidays

Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) officials made their final plea for New Jerseyans to follow COVID-19 protocols during the holiday season despite renewed optimism about the availability of a vaccine sooner rather than later.

“This is a really, really big week. It’s almost an inflection point,” said Murphy at a press briefing Nov. 23. “I think it’s the front end of the holiday season that’ll last basically five, six weeks. We’ve just got to find a way, folks, to both respect (the holidays) but do it responsibly.”

Murphy expressed particular concern for the indoor gatherings that involved large family gatherings, with his advice to keep it in single digits and avoid multigenerational gathering as much as possible.

Small Gatherings

“We urge you, if you haven’t done so already, to plan for only a small immediate family gathering… only with those in your bubble, in your immediate household. If you’re going to get together with a bigger group, and I beg you not to do that, please do it only outside where social distancing can be better ensured, so you can better protect your loved ones from this deadly virus,” said Murphy.

NJDOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted 80% of New Jersey deaths are in individuals 65 years or older; 47% of the deaths are in individuals over the age of 80, followed by 32% of individuals between the ages of 65 and 79. 

Conversely, the newest cases since October are in the 19- to 49-year-old age group. As a result, Persichilli expressed concern about the spread of the coronavirus during the holiday season.

Family Transmission

“It appears that younger individuals are exposing older, more vulnerable loved ones, your grandmother, your grandfather, a vulnerable older neighbor. This has to stop,” said the commissioner. “You need to be more careful. You need to be safe, not only for yourself, but also for your loved ones.”

The state expects cases to rise after Thanksgiving. NJDOH Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Ed Lifshitz said the incubation period is up to 14 days, with an assumption of seeing cases increasing five to seven days after the Thursday holiday.

“(Outbreaks) are likely going to be happening in people’s homes where it’s not going to be as easy to see a specific outbreak associated with a particular place,” said Lifshitz. “We’re going to be looking for that general increase in numbers over that time period.”

Prevention is Key

Officials reminded the best tools while awaiting a vaccine and therapeutics are the ones that have been practiced that bent the curve in the Spring: wearing of face masks, constantly washing hands, social distancing, hosting events outdoors and if hosting indoors, increase the ventilation by opening the windows and the doors, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.

To that end, NJDOH recommended for those hosting to provide attendees with supplies to help everyone to stay healthy and safe. These include extra masks, hand sanitizers, tissues, stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single-use towels. 

Persichilli recounted a recent CDC study of counties in Kansas that had a mask mandate, compared to counties without one. Those with a mask mandate saw a 6% decrease in new cases; counties without a mask mandate experienced 100% increase in new cases.

“Prevention is the key. This study demonstrates how effective masks can be in reducing the spread of the virus,” said the commissioner.

Daily Data

As of Nov. 25, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 317,905 with 4,073 total new cases reported and 50 new deaths, bringing that total to 15,057. The state listed probable deaths at 1,829, bringing the overall total to 16,886.

For North Jersey counties, Passaic had a total of 432 new cases, Bergen 387 new cases, Essex 366 new cases, Hudson 365 new cases, Morris 211 new cases, Sussex 30 new cases and Warren 20 new cases. 

State officials noted 47 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,989, followed by Bergen at 1,864, Hudson with 1,409, Passaic at 1,160, Morris at 711, Sussex at 162 and Warren with 160.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 250, Essex has 233, Hudson has 159, Morris at 147, Passaic at 144, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 13.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Nov. 21 was 10.5%. 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. 

As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 1.24 from 1.28 the day before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 2,902 patients are hospitalized; by region, there were 1,379 in the North, 878 in the Central and 645 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 545 are in intensive care units and 281 on ventilators, while 344 patients were discharged.

Essex Tops County Count

Essex has the most cumulative cases in the state with 33,830, followed by Bergen at 32,912, Hudson at 30,021, Middlesex at 28,974, Passaic at 28,213, Union at 27,112, Ocean at 20,709, Monmouth at 19,386, Camden at 17,673, Morris at 12,811, Mercer at 13,102, Burlington at 12,817, Somerset at 8,622, Gloucester at 8,406, Atlantic at 7,559, Cumberland at 4,871, Sussex at 2,411, Warren at 2,332, Hunterdon at 2,316, Cape May at 1,587 and Salem at 1,521.

Another 720 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 66 outbreaks involving 269 cases have been reported in 19 of the 21 counties in the Garden State, with 10 new outbreaks involving 30 cases recorded. For North Jersey, Bergen County has eight confirmed outbreaks with 21 cases, Sussex County has three confirmed outbreaks with seven cases, Warren County has four confirmed outbreaks with nine cases, Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases and Passaic County has two confirmed outbreaks with 19 cases. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 319 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 5,761 of the cases, broken down between 2,777 residents and 2,984 staff. 

Cumulatively, 995 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 26,622 residents and 15,526 staff, for a total of 42,148 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,281 on Nov. 25. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,925 residents deaths and 122 staff deaths.

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