New Jersey could be in for a “long hot summer” with a new COVID-19 wave peak over May and June, under a worst-case scenario laid out by Gov. Phil Murphy and state health officials on Wednesday, March 31.
Under those projections, the state could reach 8,162 cases and 3,644 hospitalizations on May 18, with a similar peak in mid-June, Murphy said.
A moderate scenario called for an April 18 peak of both 5,405 positive cases and 2,669 people in the hospital, according to state models. Cases would stay above 4,000 until mid-May, and hospitalizations would not fall below 2,000 until May 18.
“This model assumes that the number of new hospitalizations follows the rates that we have seen after past religious holidays and expansions of indoor activities, including indoor dining,” the governor said.
On Wednesday, the state logged 4,586 new COVID-19 cases, the third day in the past week with more than 4,000 new cases. Total patients were 2,363, the highest since the state was coming down from the second wave.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli cited both the variant surge – driven by B.1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom, “coupled with less cautious behaviors.”
President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, has pleaded for governors to halt their state’s reopening in order to counter these new surges.
But Murphy nonetheless relaxed many restrictions in recent weeks, including this week when he relaxed the capacity at indoor and outdoor venues like concert arenas, and raised the outdoor gathering capacity.
Murphy defended those reopenings as recently as his latest press briefing on March 31, arguing that people should take advantage of the warmer outdoor weather, where the virus is less contagious.
The worst-case scenario would become a reality if people “lower their guard” and do not take “the necessary precautions for protecting themselves at gatherings through the spring and into Memorial Day,” Murphy said.
There would be over 6,000 daily cases on April 30 and over 7,000 on May 5, with hospitalizations hitting past 3,000 on May 4 and staying above 3,000 until at least July 13.
“I’m less worried about the numbers than I am about the length of the calendar,” Murphy said. “I’m more concerned by how prolonged this becomes if it’s this scenario we have to live through.”
“We would basically be back to where we were in December and January, when the second wave was crashing over us,” Murphy added. “Under this scenario, we’re in for a long hot summer.”
The governor’s office did not release a best-case scenario on this new wave. But the state came nowhere close to the worst-case and moderate scenarios the state laid out for the second wave.
Under those projections, the state was looking at more than 12,000 daily cases and 9,000 patients at the start of the year, or in a moderate scenario over 9,100 cases and 6,300 patients in mid-January.
Instead, the state peaked at 6,922 new cases on Jan. 13 and nearly 3,9000 hospitalizations in late December.
“My gut tells me, we’re in for the moderate reality,” Murphy said. “There’s a very good cause to be optimistic in the medium term” of June.
That puts state and federal health officials in a race to contain the new surges by vaccinating as many people as possible. The state has administered 4.22 million COVID-19 doses since Dec. 15, of which 2.73 million were a first dose and 1.5 million were a second dose.
State officials are aiming to vaccinate 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June, or 70% of the eligible population. They’ve reached roughly 23% of the state’s 6.9 million adults.
And a surge of over 551,000 new doses, driven by a spike in Johnson & Johnson one-shots, means more good news for the state, according to Persichilli.