Last week saw students return to schooling in New Jersey, whether for in-person or for virtual learning. 

However, at least six school districts that had started on hybrid learning have switched to virtual learning, after those districts had students and teachers test positive for COVID-19. The news prompted a discussion of risks of transmission during Gov. Phil Murphy’s Sept. 14 press briefing. 

Murphy and Ed Lifshitz, director of the communicable diseases service of the state Health Department, said the state is not aware of any reports of in-school transmission. 

When asked if the number of districts switching from hybrid to virtual was higher than expected, Murphy said the number was about what the state had anticipated.

Lifshitz said that was the reason that New Jersey had established a regional system for school districts to report COVID-19 cases. 

Montclair is one of 236 districts doing virtual learning. The district decided to switch to remote learning in August after officials determined the ventilation systems in the schools needed to be upgraded. 

When asked about transmission risks related to dining, Murphy said that the state has not received any indication of outbreaks connected to outdoor dining. It is too early to tell whether indoor dining has led to any transmission, since indoor dining only resumed on Sept. 4, he said. However, he reiterated that outdoor dining has been deemed to have less risk of transmission of COVID-19 than indoor dining. 

Flu season

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli emphasized the need for residents to get flu shots, with September and October being optimal times to do so. 

She added that fewer than half of eligible people, both nationally and in New Jersey, get a flu shot each year. 

Health officials are concerned about a “twindemic”: a bad flu season combined with the pandemic.

The flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, Persichilli said. But it will help reduce the impact of flu symptoms, which in turn will cut down on the strain on hospitals and medical supplies. 

Persichilli said it takes about two weeks for the body to develop antibodies after receiving the flu shot.

Today’s numbers

As of Sept. 14, health officials reported 346 new positive cases, compared to 518 on Sept. 11, bringing the state total to 196,968. The positivity rate dropped from 2.6 percent on Sept. 11 to 1.82 percent today, and the virus transmission rate declined slightly, from 1.08 on Sept. 11 to 1.06 today. 

Officials have also reported three new deaths, compared to nine on Sept. 11, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths to 14,245, and probable COVID-19-related deaths to 1,789.  Hospitals reported 14 additional deaths within the past 24 hours and 420 patients, including 91 in critical care and 41 on ventilators, compared to 482 patients, 81 in critical care and 33 on ventilators on Sept. 10. 

Essex County officials revised the total number of cases and deaths downward from Sept. 13’s numbers. The number of total cases was revised from 20,457 to 20,435, and the number of deaths was revised downward from 1,870 to 1,860. 

Montclair health officials reported that on Sept. 14, the number of cases remained at 542, while the number of deaths remains at 56.