For the fourth consecutive day, the number of patients with COVID-19 in New Jersey's hospitals declined overnight Saturday, an increasingly good indication that the current wave of the pandemic has peaked.
There were 5,250 hospitalized COVID patients, down 421 from the prior day and a 14% decline from the peak of 6,089 patients on Jan. 11.
But Saturday night's figure may be a slight undercount, since only 69 of the state's 71 hospitals had reported their numbers, according to the state Health Department's COVID website.
Of those hospitalized, 890 needed intensive care, up four from the prior day, and 557 needed the help of a ventilator to breathe, a jump of 33 of from the prior day and the largest number during the pandemic's current wave, which began in early November.
New COVID cases also declined for the seventh time in the past eight days. Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday that the daily COVID case count was 14,048 infections confirmed by PCR tests, and 1,942 confirmed through antigen tests. That's a 58% drop since the peak of Jan. 7, which had 33,459 positive new cases confirmed through PCR tests.
The numbers provide an incomplete picture of the extent of new cases, since they don't include results from at-home test kits or those who are infected but didn't get tested.
Data from other countries have shown that the latest COVID surge, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, has lasted about a month. South Africa, where scientists first detected omicron in late November, reached its peak in late December and has seen case counts plunge. Likewise, it took about a month for omicron to peak in the U.K before key COVID numbers began to drop sharply this week.
On Saturday, New Jersey surpassed the grim milestone of more than 30,000 residents who have died from COVID since the pandemic began 22 months ago, as Gov. Phil Murphy announced 122 more deaths. He announced an additional 10 deaths Sunday, bringing total deaths to 30,090.
Many currently hospitalized patients who have COVID were admitted to the hospital because of other medical conditions. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said last week that about 49% are hospitalized primarily because of their COVID diagnosis. The rest were hospitalized for other reasons and then tested positive for COVID in the hospital.
But those with COVID who are hospitalized for other illnesses still pose a complication for hospitals, since they must be isolated in COVID-only parts of the hospital, away from other patients. In addition, COVID becomes a condition that could exacerbate their principal diagnosis, Persichilli said.
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While hospitals continue to struggle with staffing shortages, the number of new cases among health care workers continues to decline, another good sign.
There were 147 new infections among hospital staff Saturday, with 240, 307, 533 and 458 in the preceding days. When hospital workers test positive for COVID, they must remain at home in isolation for five days, making them unable to assist with patients.
To help close the gaps in staffing, some hospitals have had administrators fill support roles and curtailed non-emergency surgeries. In addition, the Biden administration has sent a military medical strike team to University Hospital in Newark to assist.
Hardest hit over the past 30 days has been University Hospital, with 716 workers infected, followed by St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson with 632, Morristown Medical Center with 620, Hackensack University Medical Center with 587, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick with 586, and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton with 536.
COVID outbreaks remain a major problem at nursing homes throughout New Jersey. There are currently outbreaks at 550 facilities, with infections among 8,566 residents and 11,358 employees, according to the state Health Department.
The worst outbreak has been at Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center, formerly Andover Subacute II, in Sussex County, with 225 cases among residents, 122 cases among staff and three deaths among residents.
The three state-run veterans homes, hit hard during the initial wave of the pandemic in April 2020, are again facing serious outbreaks. The home in Menlo Park has 35 infections among residents and 124 among staff, with four resident deaths. The Paramus home has 30 cases among residents and 103 among staff, with three resident deaths. The home in Vineland has 12 resident infections and 148 among staff, with two resident deaths.
Other facilities with large outbreaks include Bayside Manor in Keansburg with 42 resident infections, 45 staff infected and 12 resident deaths; Sinai Post-Acute Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Newark with 176 resident cases and 66 staff cases, along with one resident death; Preakness Healthcare Center in Wayne with 36 resident cases, 130 staff cases and one resident death; Alaris Health at Hamilton Park in Jersey City with 68 resident cases, 44 staff cases and six resident deaths; Willow Springs Rehab and Health Care Center in Brick with 49 resident cases, 36 staff cases and nine resident deaths; and Hackensack Meridian Health Nursing and Rehabilitation in Red Bank with 79 resident cases, 43 staff cases and four resident deaths.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Has omicron peaked in NJ? COVID hospitalizations drop for fourth day