New Jersey's already stressed hospitals saw the number of COVID patients surpass 5,000 for the first time since early in the pandemic, data released Tuesday shows. The state also announced Tuesday another 79 COVID related deaths, bringing the total to 29,151 confirmed or likely COVID deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020.
The surge in hospitalizations is projected to peak between 6,000 and 9,000 later this month and is being driven in part by the spread of the omicron variant.
It comes at a time of staff shortages during what is traditionally a hospital's busiest time of year with seasonal ailments from the flu — which is particularly bad this year — to injuries such as slipping on ice.
New Jersey officials called for federal reinforcements to make up for depletion in hospital staff as the virus continues to infect more of them. More than 4,000 employees have tested positive since Dec. 27, with another 575 new infections reported on Tuesday, state data shows.
Despite more breakthrough cases, unvaccinated patients still make up the majority of COVID hospitalizations, according to data from the New Jersey Hospital Association. A survey of hospitals on Dec. 31 showed:
60.6% of patients were unvaccinated.
33.6% were "under-vaccinated," meaning they either received only one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or have not received a booster shot.
5.8% were fully vaccinated plus a booster shot.
The surge has prompted Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli to request reinforcements from the federal government. She has asked for a FEMA strike force to be deployed at depleted hospitals and the National Guard to fill in at nursing homes where almost 6,000 staffers have recently tested positive.
Health department officials have not said where the extra staffers will be deployed. The state has requested 10 strike teams of 15 members each, said Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the state police.
At his weekly pandemic briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants to increase the capacity at some hospitals by 50 to 100 beds indoors or in tents on their campus, and not in a field station like one established at the Meadowlands convention center in 2020.
To do so, New Jersey needs that extra 150 personnel from FEMA.
"If we don't have the medical staff to go out there and take care of patients, it's really going to be all for naught," Callahan said Monday.
The 5,155 hospitalizations reported by 71 hospitals on Monday night is the highest since May 5, 2020 when New Jersey was slowly coming off its first COVID wave. Hospitalizations had peaked at 8,270 on April 15, 2020.
Persichilli has said that the bulk of COVID patients in the state's hospitals — about 70% — are unvaccinated.
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Hospitalizations have quadrupled in one month from early December and intensive care admissions and ventilator use have each tripled in that time.
Cases have skyrocketed to historic levels. New Jersey announced 25,277 new cases confirmed by PCR tests Tuesday, the seventh straight day with more than 20,000 new infections, and another 5,137 confirmed through antigen tests. Those numbers provide only a partial picture of the extent of infections, since they don't include results from at home tests or those who are sick but didn't bother to get tested.
New Jersey's testing sites have been strained for weeks before, during and after the holidays. The state continues to see long lines at clinics, few rapid tests available on pharmacy shelves and longer turnaround times for results.
Hospitals with the most staff COVID cases
The largest hospitals have seen the highest number of COVID cases among their staff, but not necessarily by percentage of their workforce. The numbers are over the past 30 days:
University Hospital in Newark: 479
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick: 396
St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson: 375
Hackensack University Medical Center: 373
St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton: 303
Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus: 276
Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck: 268
Morristown Medical Center: 268
Hunterdon Medical Center: 242
Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune: 229
Source: Department of Health
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic's impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ COVID hospitalizations surpass 5,100, continuing spike