New Jersey Health officials say the state is still “struggling” to manage the pandemic since the latest data shows New Jersey remains wedged inside a Coronavirus hot zone, and it is currently ranked first in the US in Coronavirus deaths per capita over the past week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told the state Assembly Budget Committee on April 22 that the trend could continue to slow the pace of reopenings or capacity expansions while the state continues to address problems at long-term care facilities and nursing homes. The state says it has conducted 1,000 infection control inspections and 520 regular surveys as well as investigated 758 complaints at long-term care facilities. Out of that, 613 deficiencies have been cited and $2.2 million in penalties have been imposed against 79 facilities since the pandemic began, Persichilli said. Still, around 8,000 of the state’s 22,000 deaths have been at long-term care facilities and one in 500 New Jerseyans have died from the disease, she said.”Unfortunately, the one thing we’re struggling with is that our death rate from COVID has not decreased,” Persichilli said. “This is not a position to be proud of.”
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told the committee on April 22 that New Jersey has the second-highest death rate in the nation, behind only Michigan. But on April 23, the state jumped to the top position. According to the CDC, New Jersey is reporting a Coronavirus fatality rate of 2.9 per 100,000 population over the past seven days. By comparison, Michigan is 2.6, Georgia and Montana are 2.4 and Pennsylvania and West Virginia are 2.3 per 100,000 people. New Jersey still ranks high in cases, too, ranking second in the nation per capita. The state is reporting a Coronavirus infection rate of 269.7 cases per 100,000 population over the past seven days. By comparison, Michigan is 483, Pennsylvania is 248.5, Minnesota is 238.4 and Maine is 230 per 100,000 population.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli took heat from some lawmakers during the hearing who could not understand why the state could not do more to prevent deaths at long-term care facilities. “Somebody has to be responsible for those losses of lives,” said Assemblyman Harold J. “Hal” Wirths (R-Sussex County). Assemblyman Wirths’ district includes Andover Subacute & Rehab Center II, which made headlines a year ago after stacking more than a dozen bodies in a temporary facility. It was referred to as a “makeshift morgue” by officials. Persichilli said the “virus is at fault,” but she also said that multigenerational housing and New Jersey’s status as having the densest population in the county are also to blame. Given those close quarters, the virus was able to spread too easily and health officials were initially told that the disease was “symptomatic spread,” she said. “I stand by what we did,” she said. “There were people walking around and into our long-term care facilities without a symptom and spreading the disease.” She also said 35 percent of the deaths involved communities of color and three times as many Hispanic men between the ages of 35 and 60 are dying compared to whites. That last statistic compelled the state to up its vaccinations in Hispanic communities, she said. Nineteen percent of the population last week who were vaccinated were Hispanic people.
Assemblyman Harold J. “Hal” Withs said he was also disappointed that Governor Phil Murphy is taking incremental steps in reopening while Connecticut, which is similar in size and population density, is not. He said the high death is “what’s baffled me a bit because we have had the strictest lockdowns and I don’t see what’s working.” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said reopening decisions are based on health department data, saying the Murphy administration looks at community spread, hospital capacity and the death rate per 100,000 people. If the state did not take the lockdown steps it needed to take, she said, as many as 1 out of every 250 New Jersey residents could have died.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has echoed Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli’s statements, saying he believes the spread of the Coronavirus variants has kept the state’s cases high, even though New Jersey just had a four-day streak of fewer than 3,000 new cases for the first time in five months. Governor Murphy said that there are around 2,000 variant cases. The data comes two weeks after the results of a new analysis by UC Berkeley placed New Jersey’s and America’s coronavirus response among the worst. The state’s vaccination program, on the other hand, has made progress. Murphy has announced that vaccines will be available to everyone 16 years old and over beginning on April 19.