NJ Hits Highest COVID-19 Daily Case Totals As Key Metrics Jump

Tom Davis

NEW JERSEY – A new report says key metrics in the coronavirus crisis have risen sharply across New Jersey as the Garden State now is reporting its highest daily case totals ever, exceeding even the worst days of the pandemic's first wave in March and April.

Gov. Phil Murphy reported 4,540 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, exceeding the previous daily highs that the state hit on Saturday – 4,395 – and on April 17th, when 4,391 cases were reported.

He also reported that New Jersey had 18 more confirmed deaths – far below the worst days of March and April, when the daily fatality numbers were in the hundreds. But hospitalizations have risen past 1,500, the highest number since mid-summer.

Murphy said the numbers continue to prove that a "second wave of #COVID19 is now here."

"These numbers are ALARMING and continue to rise," Murphy wrote on Twitter. "Take this seriously. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe."

The state Department of Health's "COVID-19 Activity Level Report," which is issued weekly, says the coronavirus case levels rose from "moderate" to "high" over the two months in all 21 New Jersey counties. Other metrics have also risen sharply (see below).

There have now been 279,274 total cases and 14,765 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Murphy has taken some steps this past week to contain the virus's spread, imposing a 10 p.m. indoor curfew at bars and restaurants and eliminating bar seating. Murphy also signed an order this past week allowing communities to establish a curfew as early as 8 p.m. Read more: Gov. Murphy Clarifies Rules For NJ Indoor Dining, Bars, Barbers

On Monday, Murphy announced that he's reducing gathering limits. Read more: Gov. Murphy: NJ To Lower Gathering Limits Amid COVID Case Spikes

Murphy, however, still says he's not planning a major reversal of reopenings – particularly schools – despite the rising numbers. A growing number outbreaks have been linked to indoor dining at late hours, he said, but very few have been linked to schools.

If the Garden State gets any worse, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said, New Jersey's solution will be "increased testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantining."

As the weather gets colder and people move inside, she said, the risk of transmission will continue to grow.

"Now is not the time to let your guard down," she said. "The virus has not stopped circulating."

Murphy said the new report provides regional metrics for health and safety risks "that have further guided our decision-making" in reopening New Jersey.

Indeed, the report was issued two months after New Jersey took some of its biggest reopening steps, including the restart of schools, indoor dining, indoor amusements and movie theaters.

By rising to a "high" level, state officials said, school districts in those counties may have to take more serious steps – such as quarantining or even shutting down schools – if a child shows the symptoms of COVID-19.

Indeed, at least one district has taken that step. East Brunswick switched to all-remote learning this past week. Read more: East Brunswick School District To Go All-Remote Through Jan. 11

"If you're in a very low-risk district, then you don't need to treat it quite as harshly as if you're in a much higher transmission community where the risk of that person actually having COVID is much higher," said Edward Lifshitz, medical director for the state Department of Health.

Here is what the report says:

Key metrics rising

The report divides New Jersey into regions and assesses their rates of new cases, COVID-19-like illnesses and positivity rates.

The daily new COVID-19 case rate, per 100,000 people, has especially spiked in North Jersey, rising by more than 600 percent in Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren counties and more than 750 percent in Bergen, Essex, Hudson counties over the past two months.

Central and South Jersey have been hit hard, too.

The rate of COVID-like illness (CLI) rose by more than 250 percent in Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset counties and by more than 140 percent in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem counties over the past two months. These illnesses are defined as fever and cough or dyspnea (shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, etc.) or the presence of other types of coronavirus symptoms.

The report divides New Jersey into six regions: Northwest, Northeast, Central West, Central East, Southwest and Southeast. It then looks at each region and assigns each a "current activity level" based on case rates, COVID-like illnesses and positivity rates.

The following is a breakdown of counties contained within each public health region: Northwest: Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren; Northeast: Bergen, Essex, Hudson; Central West: Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset; Central East: Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Union; South West: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem; South East: Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland.

Data

The state uses various date to determine the level of activity. Here they are:

  • Case rate (per 100,000) is calculated as a proportion of the population — specifically, daily new COVID cases for every 100,000 people. Case rate is monitored as a seven-day average.

  • COVID-like illness (CLI) is defined as fever and cough or dyspnea (shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, etc.) or the presence of coronavirus diagnosis codes. CLI is monitored as a seven-day weekly average.

  • Percent positivity is the percentage of total positive tests out of all COVID-19 tests performed. Percent positivity is monitored as a seven-day average.

  • The COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) Score is calculated this way: In each region, each indicator is assigned a value based on the activity range it falls into; next, the values are averaged together and this rounded average gives the CALI Score; the statewide activity level is calculated by averaging the CALI Scores for the six regions.

Here is the data and map for each region, including their activity levels, for the week ending Nov. 7th:

Here is the map and data for the week ending Sept. 26th:

The state's COVID activity timeline

After three consecutive weeks at the "low" level, the DOH says New Jersey's statewide overall activity has been "moderate" since mid-October.

The timeline shows that the state was at a moderate level for nearly four months. It was "high" in late in April and May, and "very high" in late March and early April.

The moderate label was first assigned before the state even publicly identified a case: February 15th.

Here is the timeline:

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This article originally appeared on the Asbury Park Patch