What to Know
- New Jersey officials are expected to discuss their COVID modeling scenarios for the state later Wednesday; the state has already topped some projected peaks in the moderate model, according to a report
- Gov. Phil Murphy says he’s going to look carefully at hospitalizations in the next week or so; those tend to rise about a week or two after case spikes and could lend more insight into the Thanksgiving effect
- In New York, hospitalization rates are now tied to the future of indoor dining; hospital capacity is also an issue — if any region appears on track to hit 90% in 3 weeks, Cuomo will issue a total shutdown order
COVID-19 numbers in New Jersey have been at their steepest levels — and higher, at times — than they were in the spring, a disturbing trend reflective of a national crisis that shows no signs of abating. How much worse could they get?
That’s what Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to delve into Wednesday as his health commissioner, who has been quarantined after exposure to an infected person, returns to join his briefings. They are expected to discuss the state’s coronavirus modeling, considering the latest trends and possible post-holiday surge.
According to a recent NJ.com report, their latest “moderate” projection model had New Jersey peaking around 5,400 new daily cases by mid-December and nearly 5,000 hospitalizations by New Year’s Day. Since that report came out late last week, New Jersey has twice topped that 5,400 new daily case “peak,” most recently on Tuesday. It topped 6,000 new cases a day for the first time Saturday.
On the hospitalization front, New Jersey currently has nearly 3,500 people in hospitals, 70 percent of the moderate model peak projection with nearly a full month to go before the expected peak. That metric isn’t expected to notable decline until March under this model, which presumes ongoing mitigation efforts. It also includes nearly 1,000 people in intensive or critical care and more than 600 on ventilators, according to the NJ.com report.
Hospitalization numbers are expected to be a key component of Murphy’s assessment of his state’s standing in the next week or so, given the expectation any Thanksgiving-related impact would begin to emerge by that time. The more hospitalizations, the more strain on the hospital system — and the increased likelihood for additional virus deaths to weigh on the state’s already stark toll.
In neighboring New York, hospitalizations are of utmost importance these days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week that the fate of indoor dining — and possibly more — hinged on the hospitalization rates in each of the 10 regions.
Indoor dining could be suspended entirely in New York City as early as Monday if it’s hospitalization rate continues to increase, which Cuomo has said he expects it to do. New York City currently has a lower hospitalization rate than at least 3/4 of the state’s regions, as of Cuomo’s last report, but there’s no singular threshold in this case. It’s a matter of whether a given region can thwart ongoing increases.
For the rest of the state, excluding orange zones where indoor dining is suspended, indoor dining capacity will be cut to 50 percent or 25 percent if hospitalization rates don’t stabilize within a matter of days. Cuomo is expected to provide an update on the regions’ latest standings at a briefing later Wednesday.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
For the governor, the bottom line is whether hospitals can handle the increased patient volume until COVID rates start to see vaccination-related reductions. If they can’t, and hospitals in a given region appear on track to hit 90 percent of capacity within three weeks, based on a seven-day average, it’s shutdown time.
That means all schools, nonessential businesses and restaurant table service in the region in question – a level of lockdown most of the state hasn’t seen since spring. No region is close to that yet, though Long Island and New York City are the nearest, with state data showing just 18 percent and 19 percent, of hospital beds open in those respective regions. Cuomo wants at least 30 percent free.
He ordered hospitals earlier this week to boost capacity by 25 percent and called on retired nurses and doctors to reenlist. They’ll be reregistered at no cost in New York state as Cuomo looks to shore up resources for the expected winter surge.
More than 4,800 COVID-19 patients are now hospitalized statewide, double the amount reported Nov. 18 and the highest total since May 21. With 19,000 or so admitted at the peak of the crisis in spring, Cuomo said the state isn’t yet at a “critical” level of COVID-19 hospitalizations. But the growth rate is worrisome.
Daily deaths are on the increase in both New York and New Jersey — and while those statistics are nowhere near the jarring numbers from April, when the Empire State was losing about 800 people a day, increases in critical hospitalizations will lead to increases in deaths by default. Treatment is more effective these days, which may result in less overall tragedy. A vaccine is also on the near horizon, with the U.S. expected to take up Pfizer’s emergency use request on Thursday.
New York and New Jersey both expect to receive initial doses of Pfizer’s shipment within one week; they expect tens of thousands from Moderna, which takes up its request with the FDA a week after Pfizer, before the end of the month as well.
While a critical first step toward what will be a long road of recovery — for states, cities and the nation as a hole — widescale vaccination likely won’t happen until at least midway through 2021. That is not in time to stem the tide of an anticipated Christmas and New Year’s surge on top of an expected Thanksgiving surge.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week he expects the surge-upon-surge peak to fully materialize by mid-January. Without substantial and continued mitigation efforts, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert warned that first month of 2021 could feature some of the nation’s darkest days since the pandemic’s onset.
For the nation, the days are already dark — and darkening more by the day. U.S. deaths have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached in April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Worst-case scenario projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predict COVID-19 cases could peak Jan. 20 if states don’t reimpose restrictions — and that the daily tallies could be upwards of 1 million by that time. That model does presume a vaccine rollout beginning in a week or so.
At least 75 percent of the public must be vaccinated in order for the economy to return to some semblance of normalcy, experts say. According to Fauci, restaurants could likely open at full capacity and sports arenas and theaters could operate safely at that time. He says that could happen in the “back half” of 2021.
Right now, the race is on to educate a highly skeptical public about the various vaccines. Polls show high skepticism even among some first responders — and disparate skepticism along racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines.