When students go back to school in January, the state may have new protocols to allow children exposed to COVID-19 to stay in the classroom
At a press briefing on Dec. 20, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli revealed that the Murphy Administration is working with local school officials to develop “test-to-stay” programs in some school districts to be implemented after the holidays.
“We’re working with the school nurses. We have developed a proposal for a pilot. We’re looking at that for the restart after the holiday break,” Persichilli said at the last weekly in-person press briefing of the year.
What is Test-to-Stay?
Test-to-stay is a protocol that would allow exposed asymptomatic students to remain in the classroom and receive daily rapid tests, rather than requiring a mandatory quarantine every time a student is within three feet for 15 minutes or more of a classmate or teacher who tested positive at school. After exposure, students are tested each day to confirm they are COVID negative.
States such as California, Illinois, and Georgia currently use these protocols. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the past week has endorsed this strategy as well.
The “test and stay” program is one that has been pushed by Republicans in New Jersey, including State Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13). The GOP lawmaker believed the recent recommendations the state enacted last week—students who are close contacts can return to school in seven days if they test negative or 10 days if they don’t get a test—was still too restrictive.
“A seven-day quarantine is better than two weeks, but it is still unnecessarily disruptive,” said O’Scanlon. “Implementing test-to-stay in our schools would be one of the most beneficial policies enacted since the beginning of the pandemic. It just makes sense. Students need it, schools need it, and parents need it.”
The CDC recently released two different studies that show the effectiveness of the test-to-stay strategy, which included the statement “Students who have been exposed to the coronavirus can safely continue in-person learning if they are regularly tested for the virus at school, avoiding disruptive at-home quarantines.”
“Test-to-stay would herald a return to something closer to business as usual in classrooms and schools, and in the lives of students,” stated Scanlon.
No Details Yet
Gov. Phil Murphy said he had discussed the issue with Persichilli over the weekend and was now open to such a program with the CDC recommendation.
“We were, I think, largely inching toward that pilot before the CDC’s guidance and I think that only bolsters our direction,” Murphy said.
No details were given on how the program would work, who would pay for them or address whether there would be enough tests available.
As of Dec. 21, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,177,197 with 6,840 total new PCR cases. There were 1,911 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 184,109. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,361,306.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 34 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,920. The state listed probable deaths at 2,842, bringing the overall total to 28,762. State officials noted 12 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Dec. 21, Bergen had a total of 667 new confirmed cases and 277 new probable cases, Essex 1,079 new cases and 108 new probable case, Hudson 590 new cases and 101 new probable cases, Morris 524 new confirmed cases and 91 new probable cases, Passaic 358 new cases and 70 new probable cases, Sussex 139 new cases and 24 new probable cases, and Warren 127 new cases and 14 new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,889, followed by Bergen at 2,738, Hudson with 2,202, Passaic at 1,851, Morris at 1,065, Sussex at 288, and Warren County at 245.
In regards to probable deaths reported Dec. 20, Bergen has 312, Essex has 310, Morris has 268, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 73 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,957,600 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Dec. 6, 68,913 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated (1.16%). Of those 1,513 have been hospitalized and 350 COVID-related deaths—less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Nov. 29-Dec. 5, breakthroughs accounted for 22.5% of all new cases (6,082 of 27,036), 2.0% of new hospilizations (24 of 1,198), and 0 of the 116 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Dec. 21, it increased to 1.23 after three straight days at 1.21. The daily rate of infections from those tested Dec. 16 was 12.1%; by region, the rate was 13.0% in the North, 11.9% in the Central region and 9.1% in the South.
The state reported 2,034 patients were hospitalized in full reporting of the state’s 71 hospitals—the first time surpassing the 2,000 mark since April 20. By region, there were 848 in the North, 658 in the Central and 528 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 374 are in intensive care units and 186 on ventilators. A total of 166 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators 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.
According to the state dashboard, new student cases totaled 5,632 and new staff cases 1,315 in the last week as of Dec. 12. Cumulatively, 34,331 cases have been reported— 36,252 students and 8,079 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 84.0% overall. In North Jersey counties, Sussex was tops at 86.7%, followed by Morris at 86.5%, Warren at 86.0%, Passaic at 86.0%, Essex at 82.4%, and Hudson at 78.9%, and Bergen at 78.6%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Dec. 15, the state has tracked 294 school outbreaks and 1,618 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 47 outbreaks and 273 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 32 confirmed outbreak with 139 cases, Passaic County has 14 confirmed outbreak with 136 cases, Morris County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 108 cases, Sussex has 24 confirmed outbreak with 105 cases, Essex County has 16 confirmed outbreak with 82 cases, Hudson County has 13 confirmed outbreaks with 53 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 229 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,796 of the cases, broken down between 828 residents and 968 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,004 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 34,593 residents and 23,949 staff, for a total of 58,542.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,739 on Dec. 21. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,048 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,833,404 in-state, plus an additional 498,606 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,332,010 as of Dec. 21.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,154,960 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 206,917 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,361,877—73% of those total eligible. A total of 7,221,774 have received at least their first dose, or 85% of those eligible, as of Dec. 20.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,035,018 for Pfizer and 885,207 for Moderna. A total of 43,223 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,963,448 have received a booster or third shot, or a total of 40% of those eligible. (4,804,527)
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 676,570 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 542,737, Hudson 484,427, Morris 365,540, Passaic 331,191, Sussex 87,879, and Warren 57,208.