TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — During his coronavirus media briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced both positive and sobering news before revealing the expanding of two measure that will move New Jersey closer to a safe restarting of the economy.
The governor started off with enthusiasm about the latest data on hospitalizations, saying due to the focused work of residents following the many safety guidelines, the numbers have taken a dramatic turn over the last two weeks.
The state has seen a 44% drop in new hospitalizations, from 446 on April 27 to 250 on Tuesday, a 34% decline in patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 (6,485 to 4,277), a 28% dip in patients in the Intensive Care Unit (1,805 to 1,300), and a 26% decrease in patients on ventilators (1,328 to 982).
Since the peak of the outbreak, the numbers are even more impressive. The state has seen a 71% drop in new hospitalizations, a 48% decrease in patients in the hospital, a 36% drop in ICU cases, and a 41% decline in ventilator use.
Overall, new cases are down 61% since the peak and deaths per day are down 28%, the governor said.
“Because of your incredible work over the past two months, you have moved the trend lines in the right direction. You have saved lives, each and every one of you out there,” Murphy said. “And your sacrifice has saved new hospitalizations and lives.
“The progress is undeniable,” he added. “Again, I want to give a shout out to everyone out there. This does not happen without the efforts of everybody in this state doing an extraordinary job of staying home and staying away from each other, wearing face coverings, washing your hands with soap and water. It is a huge success story.”
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However, Murphy assumed an ominous tone when discussing how New Jersey compares with the rest of the country when it comes to other metrics, announcing the Garden State currently leads the nation in:
New cases per 100,000 residents: 17
Patients hospitalized per 100,000 residents: 49
New deaths per 100,000 residents: 2.3
“So far all those out there who say willy nilly, the Nostradamuses out there who think they can predict the future, and that we can open this place up wide and be carefree and get back to some semblance of where we were a couple of month ago, I want you to commit that chart to memory,” Murphy said. “We will take steps. We will take them responsibly … but those numbers don’t lie. We’re still the most impacted state in America.”
He then segued to the plan for expanded testing and contact tracing, saying New Jersey expects to conduct 20,000 tests a day and build out going forward.
“But we also know that testing on its own, is not enough,” Murphy said. “We also have to have the infrastructure in place to fully follow up on those tests, and to reach out to those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 by someone who tests positive in the future. That is where we will build our capacity for contact tracing.”
Murphy said contact tracing — the process of identifying people who may have come into contact with an infected person and subsequent collection of further information about them — is nothing new for New Jersey, adding it is a practice that has been employed in other efforts to fight communicable diseases.
“The only thing that differs from those instances today is the scope and the scale. In other words, we’re going to have to use contact tracing unlike it has ever been deployed before. And to do that, we’re going to need to build our community contact tracing core, an entire community of contact tracers to augment those already on the ground,” Murphy said.
The governor said contact tracing prior to the pandemic was largely a local or regional effort, but with the threat of COVID-19, the state must now centralize its efforts.
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Murphy said he wants to make sure local health departments and state health officials are all using and working off of the same information platform, which is why the state is hiring at least 1,000 people and creating a Community Contact Tracing Corps. The unit will complement the roughly 800 to 900 mostly county health officials who are currently tracing contacts among coronavirus-positive residents.
“When time is of the essence, like in the fight against a virus, like COVID-19, we cannot lose any of it trying to work across different platforms, and it will ensure connectivity with contact tracers in our neighboring states, especially New York,” Murphy said.
If you are interested in becoming a contact tracer, please go to COVID19.nj.gov/tracer to register.
“These truly are the underpinnings, both testing and in contact tracing, of the ‘Road Back.’ Without testing and contact tracing working hand in hand, by the way, we cannot get on the road back,” Murphy said.
As CBS2’s Nick Caloway reported, one of the challenges with contact tracing is that some coronavirus patients don’t want to participate because of privacy concerns. However, doctors at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health say most patients are willing to take part to help slow the spread.
The school is now offering a free online course on the basics of contact tracing, including good interviewing techniques.
It said since the contact tracing course went online just one day ago, more than 8,000 people have signed up.
It appears lots of people are eager to help in this massive effort.