Public health emergency extended as COVID numbers drop

Daniel J. Munoz//February 17, 2021

Public health emergency extended as COVID numbers drop

Daniel J. Munoz//February 17, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy extended the public health emergency on Feb. 17 as some of the key numbers used to gauge the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to drop, and as state health officials and the Biden administration ramp up the vaccination effort.

This is the 12th time the order has been extended since the start of March last year.

Murphy said on Feb. 17 that the extension of the public health order is now vital in order to infuse state resources toward a massive vaccination effort, which calls for inoculating 4.7 million New Jerseyans against COVID-19 by June.

As of Feb. 17, there were nearly 1.5 million doses administered,  more than 1 million being the first dose and 412,000 given the second shot.

Public health officials are relying on the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson is now seeking emergency federal approval for their single-shot vaccine.

“Today’s action gives us the ability to continue our ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts while also vaccinating New Jersey residents as quickly and safely as possible,” the governor said in a statement.

Expiration of the health emergency could seriously compromise the state Health Department’s ability to reach its goal, Murphy cautioned.

New daily cases are more than half the figure they were a month ago, which was an all-time record-high of nearly 7,000 cases reported on Jan. 13.

Other key indicators of the spread of the virus – hospitalizations, fatalities, transmission rate and positivity rate among tests – have all slowly trended downward after hitting that January peak.

“These numbers all continue their recent downward trend, which is a very promising sign,” Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 press briefing.

Murphy noted still that a highly transmissible variant first detected in the U.K. could be a “wildcard” as it gains a foothold in the nation and dozens of cases are reported across the state.

The state logged 3,786 new cases on Feb. 17 with a seven-day average of 2,804, down 48% from a week ago. The rate of transmission – how fast the virus spreads – has been below 1 for five days and a row. The positivity rate was 10.8%, down from a 17.12% positivity rate on Dec. 25.

And in the state’s hospitals logged 2,370 COVID-19 patients on Feb. 17, down from a first wave peak of over 8,000 hospitalizations, and a second wave peak of 3,802 patients on Dec. 23.

Murphy loosened indoor dining capacity restrictions just before Super Bowl weekend in response to the stabilization of the pandemic. Restrictions were also loosened on other indoor businesses like gyms, casinos, nail and hair salons.

Public health experts warned that the move was unwise given a sluggish rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and the increasing presence of the new variants.