New modeling predicts 5K daily NJ COVID-19 cases by mid-April

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TRENTON — New predictive modeling from the New Jersey Department of Health predicts that the state could see more than 5,000 new cases a day in April, in a new wave of the virus before summer.

The models were presented during Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus briefing on Wednesday. Moderate projections by the department showed that by April 18 could hit a high of 5,445, and could hover within the 5,000 new daily cases range throughout most of the month.

Hospitalizations, a metric that the state puts more stock in when it comes to easing or tightening restrictions, would be predicted to climb to 2,669 by mid-April as well, with numbers of patients in intensive care units expected to reach more than 500.

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“While these models are based on a year’s worth of data, they do change practically day to day as new data better informs our path forward,” Gov. Murphy said.

The governor also presented a high scenario model, which takes into account that the vaccines currently available will be less effective against variants of COVID-19 currently spreading throughout New Jersey.

“To create this model we still assume that our vaccination program continues at its current pace, but the vaccines only ultimately prove 65 percent effective against all variants,” the governor said. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were shown to be around 95 percent effective against COVID-19 and the Johnson & Johnson was shown to be 66 percent effective in clinical trials. The governor said there is not currently any evidence that shows that those vaccines would be 65 percent less effective against COVID-19 variants.

More than 8,000 daily cases could be reached by the state in mid-May and June, according to the modeling, with hospitalizations spiking at around 3,500 during that same time frame. Patients in intensive care units would stay just under 1,000 in this scenario.

The modeling also predicts that some individuals may “lower their guard” when it comes to the virus and chooses not to wear face masks or social distance, the governor said. Spread linked to possible holiday celebration was also taken into account.

More than 700 new variant cases were reported on Wednesday by the department of health. The most common variant of concern throughout the state is the B.1.1.7 variant, originally identified in New Jersey, with 606 cases. The B.1.526 variant, first identified in New York, is the second most common with 112 cases.

Last April during the start of the pandemic, state was averaging roughly 8,000 daily new cases of COVID-19 and the virus overburdened hospitals and caused short supplies of personal protective equipment.

“These are models, they are not certainties, we can change them through our behaviors,” the governor said.

The governor said he did not have a “low case” model to present at this time.

On Wednesday, the state announced 4,586 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total positive tests to 799,391 since last March, nearing the predicted peak in the state’s moderate predictive modeling.

The statewide rate has remained stable at 1.09, meaning that on average each person who has the virus is infecting at least one other person.

The number of patients in hospitals across New Jersey is also increasing, with 2,363 recorded on Tuesday. Of that total 458 were in intensive care and 236 ventilators were in use.

Another 44 new deaths linked to the virus were reported on Wednesday, with the total death toll since last year climbing to 21,993. Not included in that total are 2,568 probable deaths that the state believes are caused by COVID-19.

Judith Persichilli, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, said that the increases in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are “concerning.” Over the past two weeks, she said, new hospitalizations have increased by 28 percent and patients in intensive care units are up 16 percent. Ventilator usage, she said, was actually down by four percent.

Driving those numbers, she added, was an increase in younger patients. Hospitalizations of patients aged 20 to 29 have increased by 31 percent, patients between the ages of 30 to 39 have increased by 9 percent, patients between the ages of 40 to 49 have increased by 48 percent, patients between the ages of 50 to 59 increased by 29 percent and hospitalization in the 60 to 69 age bracket increased by 27 percent.

Interestingly, she said, hospitalization rates among older New Jerseyans are not up as high. Those between the age of 70 to 79 have only seen a seven percent increase in hospitalizations, while those over 80 have seen a one percent increase.

“This could explain why ventilator use is declining because younger patients in hospitals might not need ventilator assist,” Commissioner Persichilli said.

On the vaccines front, 4,225,964 total doses have been administered so far in New Jersey, with 1,570,907 fully vaccinated New Jerseyans.

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