NJ hospitals brace for January COVID-19 omicron spike

Daniel J. Munoz//January 4, 2022

NJ hospitals brace for January COVID-19 omicron spike

Daniel J. Munoz//January 4, 2022

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]New Jersey’s hospitals are bracing for a COVID-19 onslaught this winter following holiday gatherings and the emergence of the highly infectious omicron variant, state health officials warned.

The biggest fear right now is lack of staffing, and hospitals are being told to prepare for as much as 30% of their health care staff to be out sick with COVID-19 at any given time, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

Persichilli said on Jan. 3 that she is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send additional staff to New Jersey to fill in for ailing workers. In addition, the National Guard is being asked to help at the state’s long-term care centers.

“It’s bad in both hospitals and long-term care,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during his first COVID-19 briefing of 2022. “There’s just no other way around it.”

Judy Persichilli, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health during Gov. Phil Murphy's daily COVID-19 press briefing at the War Memorial in Trenton on May 19, 2020.
Judy Persichilli. – CHRIS PEDOTA, GANNETT

Murphy said he’s asking lawmakers to approve a 90-day extension of his emergency powers past the original Jan. 11 expiration date, citing the increase in cases and hospitalizations. The powers allow him to shut down most public life for the duration of the pandemic, but for now he is only only using that authority in regard to in-school mask requirements and state efforts on vaccination and testing.

“We cannot summarily give up the fight,” Murphy said. “We need to remain on a war footing to ensure that we can get resources to where they need to be, when they need to be there.”

Total hospitalizations from COVID-19 have risen past the winter wave a year ago, with 5,155 COVID-19 patients as of Jan. 3, the highest since May 2021. At the outset of the pandemic, New Jersey’s 71 hospitals saw more than 8,000 patients in April 2020.

Persichilli said officials expect from 6,000 to 9,000 total hospitalizations in January. But the state has has held off any COVID-19 restrictions beyond the mask requirements in schools, though individual towns and cities are enacting similar rules for public places.

Murphy also did not impose a statewide ban on elective surgeries as he had last spring. He noted that many hospitals are already cancelling those procedures on their own, so long as they do not put a patient’s health at risk, to redirect resources toward COVID-19 efforts.

Daily cases in the latter half of December have shattered records from day to day, with nearly 21,000 cases logged as of Jan. 3, and in several instances neared 30,000 daily cases.

Most hospitalized patients are not vaccinated, but the omicron variant can infect vaccinated individuals, though with minor symptoms.

“This rise in cases comes as the omicron variant continues to spread, which is occurring at what is traditionally hospitals’ busiest season with flu cases and other seasonal ailments, along with a persistent staffing shortage that has been made worse by the pandemic,” the New Jersey Hospital Association said in a statement. “In context of the peak in April 2020, we are in a much better place regarding PPE supplies, treatments and vaccinated patients and staff.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]