Persichilli: Coronavirus Surge Beginning in Northern New Jersey

Posted on April 1, 2020 by Samantha Maldonado of Politico

The surge in coronavirus cases has officially begun in northern New Jersey, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases statewide has surpassed 22,000, with 355 deaths.

“As the confirmed cases of COVID-19 are increasing in our state, we’re seeing an increased demand on our health care system,” Persichilli said during Wednesday’s daily briefing with Gov. Phil Murphy, adding that seven hospitals in the northern part of the state were diverting patients because of high census and overcrowding in their emergency rooms.

Persichilli and Murphy have previously said the state was preparing for a surge in patients by mid-April.

The surge, or the point at which the number of cases requiring hospitalization peaks beyond the system’s capacity, has been mitigated somewhat by social distancing measures and other restrictions Murphy has imposed.

Without taking any action, New Jersey would need almost 80,000 hospital beds at the peak of the virus, Persichilli said. At the moment, the state has 2,000 critical care beds and needs to double that capacity.

“If we did nothing, [the surge] would be here today,” Persichilli said. “We know that it’s not here today because on a statewide basis we are not feeling the same capacity issues in the central to the south part of the state.”

Of the seven hospitals that were diverting patients Tuesday night, two said they needed ventilators, which, Persichilli said, were provided by the state. She did not name any the hospitals.

Hospitals divert patients, Persichilli said, if they lack sufficient workforce to take care of patients or sufficient bed capacity.

To address the former, Murphy on Wednesday signed an executive order designed to expand the healthcare workforce. The order allows recently retired medical professionals and doctors licensed in other countries to practice in New Jersey, waives scope of practice requirements for nurses and physician‘s assistants and grants civil immunity to health care practitioners supporting the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.

The start of the surge marks a time of increased effort in procuring essential resources necessary for healthcare systems to be able to handle the growing demand.

“Right now, do we have enough ventilators? No. Do we have enough [personal protective eqipment]? No. Do we have enough beds? No. Do we have enough healthcare workers? No,” Murphy said. “Do we have a plan for each of those? Yes, but we need a lot of things to go right across all four of those dimensions, but we are not where we’ll need to be or have to be.”

Murphy said New Jersey secured an additional 350 ventilators from the federal government on Wednesday, adding to the 500 it has already received. The state has asked the federal government for 2,500 ventilators in all.

Right now, about half of the patients in intensive care units are put on ventilators, but Persichilli said she expects that within two weeks, every person in critical care will be placed on one.

Starting Wednesday, hospitals will report to the state how many ventilators they have, what kinds, how many are in use and whether anesthesia machines are being used to ventilate patients. Hospital CEOs have also been asked to report on their supplies of medication to the state. 

Morgue capacity is also an issue, and Murphy said the state is in talks with the federal government about increasing morgue capacity. Andrew Falzon, the state medical examiner, is also working with procurement and funeral directors to secure refrigerated trucks.

Meanwhile, New Jersey has secured almost 10 million pieces of personal protective equipment on its own in addition to the federal supplies.

“Our PPE procurement is entirely right now one funnel in and then coordinated one funnel out,” Murphy said.

The state Department of Health received reports of 3,649 new positive cases of the coronavirus since Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 22,255. In addition, 91 more people have died from coronavirus-related complications, bringing that statewide total to 355.

The total number of positive cases is second only to New York.

Persichilli said 93 of the 375 long-term care facilities in the state have reported at least one positive coronavirus case and that all four of the state’s psychiatric hospitals had at least one positive.

“Community spread is here in New Jersey,” Persichilli said, “and it’s here to stay for awhile.”

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Persichilli: Coronavirus Surge Beginning in Northern New Jersey