It was a birthday that will put Maritza Beniquez in the record books.
Beniquez, an emergency department nurse at University Hospital in Newark, was the first COVID-19 vaccine recipient in New Jersey on Dec. 15. She said she was elated and relieved to receive the vaccine as it will give her a piece of mind when she goes about her work.
“I am happy that in another month I won’t be afraid to go into a room anymore, to perform chest impressions, to be present when they are incubating a patient,” said Beniquez, who said she felt great after receiving the vaccine. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore and I don’t want to have that risk to take it home to my own family, my own friends, to my neighbors that live in my community.”
Gov. Phil Murphy was on hand with other state and health officials at University Hospital’s Vaccine Clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School to mark the beginning of New Jersey’s vaccination effort and witness the administration of the first COVID-19 vaccinations to Beniquez and other frontline healthcare workers. About 80 healthcare workers total were expected to be inoculated at the University Hospital clinic the first day, which has the capacity to vaccinate 600 people a day.
“This is a day that we have been waiting nearly a year for, and while we know this isn’t the end, we are witnessing, at the least, a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel,” said Murphy. “Without question, we are still in for several hard months and we are going to face stiff headwinds from this second wave, but now our heroic frontline healthcare workers can begin to take care of their fellow New Jerseyans with a higher degree of confidence in their own protection.”
The federal government has allocated 76,050 first doses to New Jersey of the Pfizer two-jab vaccine, which began arriving at acute care hospitals Dec. 14.
Phase 1A of New Jersey’s plan is to vaccinate the approximately 650,000 healthcare workers who are paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have exposure to patients. Acute care hospital workers at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 will be the first to receive the vaccine.
Six acute care hospitals across the state— University Hospital, Hackensack University Medical Center, Morristown Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center,and Cooper University Hospital—have received their first shipments. By the end of the week, vaccines are expected to be available at an additional 47 hospitals that can manage the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold chain storage.
The 18 hospitals in the state not receiving the Pfizer vaccine are awaiting the arrival of the Moderna version, which state officials expect to be approved at the end of this week. While acute care hospitals will be the only points of dispensing during the first week of vaccine availability, the network will expand to additional sites like Federally Qualified Health Centers, local health departments, county sites, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies.
The expansion will allow the state to include long-term care residents in its Phase 1A plan, specifically adults who live in facilities that provide a range of services, including medical and personal care. Long-term care facilities will be served on-site through a pharmacy partnership supported by the CDC.
“Availability of a COVID-19 vaccine within the same year as the epidemic began is a huge scientific achievement, which can help us contain this virus and save lives,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
But for Beniquez, a mother of three and grandmother to two, receiving the vaccine brings her hope of better days ahead for her colleagues as well as those she interacts with everyday.
“When COVID came, it was the worst of our days, wave after wave of critically ill patient with no end in sight,” said Beniquez. “As a woman of color, I stand in solidarity with my community and know that we are three times more likely to suffer the catastrophic effects of this disease. It’s important for me to receive the vaccine for all the people I love, my family, my friends, my community, my neighbors.”
As of Dec. 15, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 409,414 with 4,111 total new cases reported and 97 new deaths, bringing that total to 16,004. The state listed probable deaths at 1,868, bringing the overall total to 17,872.
For North Jersey counties, Bergen had a total of 391 new cases, Hudson 373 new cases, Passaic 319 new cases, Essex 309 new cases, Morris 160 new cases, Sussex 51 new cases and Warren 33 new cases.
State officials noted 41 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 2,068, followed by Bergen at 1,961, Hudson with 1,483, Passaic at 1,234, Morris at 750, Sussex at 164 and Warren with 163.
In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 254, Essex has 234, Hudson has 159, Morris at 157, Passaic at 144, Sussex has 39 and Warren has 13.
The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Dec. 10 was 11.0%, with the North reporting 10.4%, Central 10.9% and South 12.4%. 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.
As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 1.11 from 1.13 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 3,660 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 1,651 in the North, 1,190 in the Central and 819 in the South.
Of those hospitalized, 727 are in intensive care units and 456 on ventilators. While 291 patients were discharged, 316 were admitted.
Essex Tops County Count
Essex has the most cumulative cases in the state with 41,767, followed by Bergen at 41,216, Hudson at 37,925, Middlesex at 37,721, Passaic at 35,996, Union at 32,935, Ocean at 26,733, Monmouth at 25,981, Camden at 24,248, Burlington at 17,392, Morris at 17,092, Mercer at 16,515, Gloucester at 11,756, Somerset at 10,923, Atlantic at 9,880, Cumberland at 6,368, Sussex at 3,455, Warren at 3,181, Hunterdon at 3,108, Salem at 2,232 and Cape May at 2,015.
Another 975 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 88 outbreaks involving 388 cases have been reported in 19 of the 21 counties in the Garden State, with 15 new outbreaks involving 103 cases recorded in the last week. For North Jersey, Bergen County has 15 confirmed outbreaks with 79 cases, Passaic County has four confirmed outbreaks with 23 cases, Warren County has four confirmed outbreaks with nine cases, Sussex County has three confirmed outbreaks with seven cases and Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 394 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 8,731 of the cases, broken down between 4,106 residents and 4,625 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,098 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 28,158 residents and 17,345 staff, for a total of 45,503 cases.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,402 on Dec. 15. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,093 residents deaths and 124 staff deaths.