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N.J.’s COVID-19 2nd wave could peak at nearly 5,000 hospital patients by New Year’s Day, model says

New modeling of the coronavirus second wave from New Jersey health officials shows the state hitting a peak of around 5,400 new cases per day by mid-December and nearly 5,000 patients hospitalized by New Year’s Day, presuming residents heed warnings to slow the spread.

The model is considered a “moderate” outcome that includes assumptions for “significant social distancing, everyone wearing masks and uniform spreading characteristics without super spreader incidents,” according to Gov. Phil Murphy’s Office of Innovation. Any shift in behavior, for better or worse, could lead to a corresponding outcome.

The modeling shows news cases could peak at around 5,400 new daily cases on Dec. 14 before very gradually declining over the winter months. New daily cases wouldn’t drop below 2,000 until the beginning of March.

New Jersey reported 4,913 new positive tests on Thursday – the most since the outbreak began in March, though the scarcity of testing in the spring likely undercounted the extent of the initial outbreak. The nearly 5,000 cases reported Thursday could also reflect some fluctuation in daily reports expected this week from the Thanksgiving holiday and delays in receiving results. The seven-day average for new cases increased to 4,143, nearly the same as a week ago, but 150% higher than a month ago

Hospitalizations would peak at nearly 5,000 patients on New Year’s Day and wouldn’t drop below 3,000 patients on any given day until March. Surges in patients seeking hospital care for COVID-19 typically follow one to two weeks after a big spike in cases. The peak would include nearly 1,000 people in intensive or critical care and more than 600 on ventilators, according to the model.

There were 3,292 people in New Jersey’s 71 hospitals as of Wednesday night, the most since mid-May, but still below the states peak of more than 8,000 patients in April. Murphy has expressed concern that a steady rise in hospitalizations could stress the health care system.

The New Year’s Day peak in hospitalizations matches with a projection of nearly 50,000 active cases of the coronavirus by that time.

The moderate model is only one scenario of possible outcomes. Murphy said earlier this week that health officials plan to unveil more potential models, which are updated daily.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage

NorthJersey.com was the first to report on the latest outbreak model.

New Jersey on Thursday another 64 deaths, bringing the death toll in the state to 17,209 COVID-19 fatalities – 15,373 confirmed and 1,836 probable.

The state has reported 281 confirmed deaths in the last week – more than the confirmed death tolls reported for the entire months of September (178) and October (231). New Jersey had 615 confirmed deaths in November.

The rate of transmission decreased again Thursday to 1.06, down from 1.08 on Wednesday. Any number above 1 means the outbreak is expanding, but the steady decline in the transmission rate would indicate that the rate of increase is slowing. And the seven-day average for new cases increased slightly to about the same as a week ago — though still 150% higher than a month ago.

But the state has not yet begun to see a potential surge in cases from Thanksgiving gatherings, as test results for those possible exposures would likely start to appear in daily reports this weekend due to the incubation period and the multi-day turnaround time.

New cases would only plateau in less than two weeks under this model if there’s only a “minor spike” after Thanksgiving, according to the Office of Innovation.

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Matt Arco may be reached at [email protected].

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