As the confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase in the state, demand on the health care system is also intensifying.
Those sobering comments came from Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at a Wednesday afternoon press conference with Gov. Phil Murphy.
“We predicted a statewide surge during the second week of April and as we broke the predictions down by region. We predicted that critical care capacity, particularly in the north, would be reached in the first week of April if no further critical care beds were opened,” said Persichilli.
She said that increasing critical care capacity is the key to managing the surge.
Tuesday night seven hospitals in the northern part of the state reported to the Department of Health that they were on divert status for various reasons – some due to overcrowding in emergency rooms and others because of high census.
Two hospitals were supplied with generators that they requested from the DOH. And, the state was able to secure 350 additional ventilators, which were scheduled to be delivered Wednesday.
Persichilli said that due to the activity in the northern part of the state, the DOH is looking at alternative care sites.
The field hospital in the Meadowlands is scheduled to open next week and will be available for lower acuity patients who can be safely transferred.
Dr. Jeff Brenner, the founding physician of the Camden Coalition, and UnitedHealthcare President and Chief Operating Officer – Clinical Redesign Kathleen Stillo – who are on loan to the state from UnitedHealthcare – will be charged with leading efforts at the alternative care site facilities.
Persichilli said there are currently about 5,200 volunteers and about 35 percent of them are licensed professionals nurses, respiratory therapists, and some physicians.
There are five nurses from the DOH’s survey team sorting through the names, identifying their credentials, working with the Department of Community Affairs for a quick check to make sure that their backgrounds are in order, and they are being sorted by county.
“Our first priority with the 5,200 will be to fulfill the staffing needs of our field hospitals,” said Persichilli.
The governor announced at the press conference his signing of Executive Order No. 112, authorizing the Division of Consumer Affairs to temporarily reactivate the licenses of recently retired health care professionals and grant temporary licenses to doctors licensed in foreign countries.
The executive order also temporarily permits certain health care professionals to perform acts outside of their ordinary scope of practice and grants broad civil immunity to health care professionals and facilities providing services in support of New Jersey’s COVID-19 response efforts who are acting in good faith.
The DOH has also been working with health care facilities and providers in response to their need for information.
“We held meetings and numerous conference calls with a spectrum of providers. Today, we partnered with the Nicholson Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the office of the Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Affairs to hold the start of a series of video conferences for primary care physicians and outpatient providers to share infection control protocols, epidemiological perspective and telehealth opportunities that are available to them,” said Persichilli.
She said that community spread is here in New Jersey and it is here to stay for a while.
On Wednesday the department reported 3,649 new cases of COVID-19 and 91 new deaths primarily in the northern counties, for a total of 355 fatalities. Three of the deaths are under investigation the primary diagnosis may or may not be COVID-19.
Persichilli said that 93 of the state’s long-term care facilities are reporting at least one positive COVID-19 case.
All four of the state’s psychiatric hospitals have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19.
In response to a question about surge capacity in hospitals in the northern counties, Persishilli said that patients would be moved from northern facilities to southern ones only if there was nothing else left.