State health officials said they expect the current surge of new COVID-19 cases to peak at some point in the first quarter of next year.
Still, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli cautioned on Monday that the models and predictions are “very, very preliminary.”
“It changes every day,” she said at a press briefing with Gov. Phil Murphy that afternoon. “We’re going to be vigilant from now through March.”
A NorthJersey.com report from last month found that state health projections suggest the second wave of the virus would peak toward the end of February and early March. In a best-case scenario, the state would log less than 1,000 new cases a day and just over 1,000 daily hospitalizations at the end of February.
But a worst-case scenario projected the state reporting as many as 9,502 new cases on March 3 alone, and more than 12,300 total hospitalizations as of March 12.
On Monday, the state 1,379 new cases and 1,109 total hospitalizations.
New Jersey’s population of 9 million has seen months-long record-high levels of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, all pointing toward signs that New Jersey has entered a second wave of surges. Hospitalizations have remained at more than 1,000 for longer than a week, and daily cases have been over 1,000 for more than two weeks.
The first wave ran from March through April. At its peak, the state reported more than 4,000 new daily cases and close to 400 fatalities a day.
During that time, on any given day, the state was reporting over 5,800 COVID-19 hospitalizations, more than 1,200 patients on ventilators and close to 1,800 patients in intensive care.
These numbers steadily climbed between the first recorded case of the virus in the state on March 4 through the end of April, before dropping over the summer.
As numbers such as hospitalizations and daily cases kept rising during the first wave, Murphy reiterated that New Jersey would need to “flatten the curve.”
In such a scenario, the numbers plateau for days or weeks, rather than continue to climb, and then steadily drop to a level where they would not overwhelm the state’s health care system. This played out over the spring and summer.
To bring down the numbers, the governor instituted mass business closures on malls, restaurants, salons, casinos, entertainment and retail, as well as a stay-at-home order and a ban on public gatherings.
Since then, Murphy has reiterated he would not institute sweeping restrictions on public gatherings and which businesses could stay open.
Indoor dining, gyms and theaters were allowed to resume operations around Labor Day weekend.
Health officials warned in recent weeks that indoor gatherings are driving many of the outbreaks, as New Jerseyans and much of the nation are head indoors due to colder weather. Few, if any, masks are worn at these gatherings and attendees are not adhering to 6-foot physical distancing.
“On top of each other at a Halloween party, on top of each other at an after-football watch party or at a Thanksgiving event of some sort—that is where our concern is,” the governor said. “That is where we think the indoor exposure is coming from.”