In a worst-case scenario, New Jersey could see greater than 12,000 daily cases of COVID-19 in early 2021, and close to 9,000 patients with the virus.
In looking at data from the New Jersey Department of Health and the Office of Innovation, Gov. Phil Murphy at a Wednesday afternoon press conference pointed out a worst-case scenario “assum[ing] that there is no change among residents in compliance with wearing face masks or social distancing while in public and that folks are just going to go about their holidays and gathering with others as they would want to do.”
If New Jerseyans wear masks, practice social distancing and stay away from holiday indoor gatherings, those numbers can be far more muted, but still considerably higher than anything the state has seen to date.
The figures according to the models show the state seeing 12,595 positive cases on Jan. 14, according to state Health Department data, as opposed to a peak of 9,932 cases on Feb. 1 according to the Office of Innovation.
Meanwhile, total COVID-19 hospitalizations would surge to 8,747 patients on Jan. 13, according to DOH data, or a Feb. 5 peak of 8,689 COVID-19 patients according to the office.
Both of these are “significantly higher” than the 8,270 patients New Jersey’s hospitals were treating on April, 14, Murphy said.
“We have to hunker down in the meantime,” he continued. “This is no time for anyone to get lax.”
And for comparison, on Wednesday the state reported 4,665 new positive cases and 3,262 total COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“Yes, we are, literally, just days away from the first vaccines being delivered to New Jersey,” Murphy said, pointing to the first shipment of 76,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and up to half a million by the end of the month.
“But we are still months away from the vaccination rates we will need to leave this pandemic behind us. So, while we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we can begin to envision an end date, we have to hunker down and keep focus.”
During the first wave, the state and its hospitals found themselves scrambling for personal protective equipment, and desperately short on beds.
In conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state set up three field hospitals, in East Rutherford, Edison and Atlantic City. Meanwhile, the New Jersey National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brought unused wings and other medical facilities across the state back online.
Now, a shortage of health care staff has state health officials worried about the ability to respond to the second wave, and not the availability of beds and PPE.
“The only solace we can find in this worst-case scenario is that both models would not see us reach the realized peaks in ICU or ventilator counts – though we shouldn’t take much solace in them,” Murphy said.
The state Health Department was estimating 1,679 patients on ventilators and 1,088 in critical care – while the Office of Innovation was seeing 1,632 intensive care patients and 1,037 on ventilators.
“As we’ve said, protecting the ability of our health care system to treat the ill is our paramount concern,” Murphy said.
“And if the numbers begin to roll in where that ability is put into question – as is the case in these models – we will have no choice but to act.”
As the first wave swept across the state in March, the governor signed a stay-at-home order and ban on public gatherings. Mass business closures were ordered, meaning that restaurants, casinos, malls, theaters, indoor entertainment, gyms, salons and non-essential retail all had to shutter their doors.
Murphy has been slow to reimpose those restrictions, save for a mandate that indoor dining must stop at 10 p.m. and restaurants cannot offer barside seating.
“A second set of assumptions would envision a path where we all do a little more to continue with our masking and social-distancing, and where more of us use common sense and smart decision-making throughout the holidays to stay among our immediate households and not take part in indoor gatherings where we know this virus also loves to hang out,” the governor said.
That means a Jan. 13 peak of 9,120 daily cases according to the DOH, and 7,180 daily cases on Christmas Day, according to the Office of Innovation.
The state would have 6,333 COVID-19 patients on Jan. 14 according to the DOH, or 5,752 patients on Jan. 31, according to the Office of Innovation.
DOH numbers project there would be 1,215 critical care patients and 788 on ventilators. The Office of Innovation projects 1,080 critical care patients and 687 on ventilators.
The governor did not present a best-case scenario.
“[U]nder this scenario, we would not need to reinstate any of our prior restrictions,” the governor said.