COVID-19: New Jersey wants to ramp up testing, contact tracing
By ERIN ROLL
New Jersey is hoping to significantly expand its COVID-19 testing capacity through May and June, and to step up its contact tracing efforts.
By the end of May, the goal is to have at least 20,000 tests conducted daily and 25,000 conducted daily by the end of June. Special emphasis will be placed on testing vulnerable populations, such as long-term care residents, health care providers, and people who may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said today, May 12.
Three types of tests are now being administered at testing sites: the existing oral-pharyngeal and nasal-pharyngeal swab tests, and a saliva-based test.
Additionally, a new saliva-based test, developed by a lab affiliated with Rutgers and which can be administered at home, has received approval from the FDA.
The populations to be tested have been divided into three categories: vulnerable populations, such as long-term care facility residents and homeless people; frontline workers such as health care workers, first responders and essential retail; and members of the general population who may have been exposed.
Testing is being done at 135 locations, both public and private, throughout New Jersey, Murphy said. CVS will also offer testing facilities at 50 of its locations in New Jersey.
The Department of Health will require all residents and staff of long-term care facilities to be tested by May 26. Additionally, access to testing will be expanded without the need for a doctor’s prescription, for people who fall into one of the three categories to be tested, and who do not have immediate access to a primary care provider.
Mobile testing sites will be set up throughout New Jersey cities, as well at houses of worship.
New Jersey wants to hire 1,000 new contact tracers to supplement the 800 to 900 tracers who are currently at work, mainly at the county level. The job pays $25 an hour, Murphy said.
With contact tracing, when a positive case is identified, trained workers will interview that person to determine whom they have had “meaningful contact” — someone with whom the patient has been within six feet of for at least 10 minutes or more — in recent days. Those names are given to the local health department, who will begin the process of notifying those people. For privacy and patient confidentiality reasons, the name of the person who has tested positive is not given to the person’s contacts, State Epidemiologist Christina Tan said.
Those who wish to apply to become a contact tracer may do so through the state’s online COVID-19 information hub: covid19.nj.gov/forms/tracer.
New Jersey has seen a significant drop in hospitalizations, new daily cases and deaths since the peak of the virus in April. New hospitalizations have dropped 71 percent since the peak of the virus, while new cases are down by 61 percent and overall hospitalizations are down by 48 percent.
However, Murphy said, New Jersey still has the highest rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths of any state in the country, including ahead of New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California and Texas. The state has 17 infections per 100,000 people; 49 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, and 2.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
“The numbers don’t lie. We’re the most impacted state in America. Remember, we’re the densest state in America,” Murphy said.
In regards to reopening, Murphy said that there was no one hard-and-fast date. “I think we run the risk of presenting an on/off switch, which is not going to happen,” he said. “This is not as though we’re going to hold back on everything until we see X, and then you’re going to see Y.”
Murphy also alluded to the regional reopening plan announced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, in which regions of that state would reopen once they had met seven specific metrics: a 14-day decline in overall hospitalizations; a 14-day decline in hospital deaths; fewer than two new hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a three-day period; at least 30 percent of total hospital beds being available; at least 30 percent of ICU beds being available; at least 30 residents for every 1,000 being tested monthly; and at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents being available.
“We’re not New York,” Murphy said. If someone drove from New York City to the Canadian border it would be a 10-hour trip, he said. Conversely, it takes less than three hours to drive from one end of New Jersey to the other.
As of Tuesday, May 12, state officials reported 898 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 140,743. By comparison, 1,453 new cases were announced on Monday.
On Tuesday, officials reported 198 new deaths, up from 59 the day before, bringing the state total to 9,508.
Hospitals saw an increase in overall hospitalizations between Sunday night and Monday night, and a decrease in the number of patients sent home. As of 10 p.m. on Monday, May 11, 4,328 people were in the hospital, with 1,306 in critical care, and 982 on ventilators. On Sunday, 4,195 people were hospitalized.
On Monday, officials reported 360 new hospitalizations and 164 live discharges, compared to 229 new hospitalizations and 179 discharges on Sunday.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Essex County officials reported 17 new deaths and 98 new COVID cases, bringing the county’s total to 15,826 cases and 1,448 deaths to date. Yesterday, Essex County officials reported eight new deaths and 558 new COVID cases.
State officials said that Monday and Tuesday numbers can be misleading as reporting is catching up from the weekend.
Montclair Health Department officials reported that as of today, May 12,, the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Montclair remains at 391; the number of individuals who did not survive the illness increased from 46 to 47. Yesterday was the first day Montclair reported no increase in cases.