NEW JERSEY — Referring to the coronavirus as a marathon, rather than a sprint, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli wants residents to be wary of “pandemic fatigue.”

As New Jersey passes 200,000 coronavirus cases Monday, she said the COVID-19 has forced many families to confront financial hardship, grief due to loss, uncertainty, isolation and general lack of socialization.

“Restrictions on our lives - such as limits on social gatherings, like weddings and funerals - have changed how we mark important milestones. And we know that these restrictions must continue for a while,” said Persichilli during Gov. Phil Murphy’s press briefing in Trenton this afternoon. “We know that this new normal will persist for the foreseeable future. And all these factors are causing what is called ‘pandemic fatigue.’”

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She defined this as a general sense of malaise and weariness due to what feels like a never ending battle - leaving many irritable and depressed.

“Those experiencing this fatigue may have trouble focusing or may have trouble with eating, or they may be sleeping less or more than usual, or lack motivation and become withdrawn,” she continued.

Anyone who may believe they’re a victim to pandemic fatigue, Persichilli recommended the following 

  • Take steps to better your physical or mental health
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Unplug from social media
  • Take a walk
  • Connect with friends or family via phone or video chat
  • Read a book 
  • Disconnect from the news cycle

For those dealing with stress, anxiety or depression, New Jersey’s mental health care helpline is available at (866) 202-HELP.

Murphy announced an additional 396 positive coronavirus screenings Monday, for a total of 200,154 since the first case March 4. The state also confirmed two additional deaths (14,278 total and 1,791 still awaiting additional lab testing). Six deaths possibly linked to the respiratory illness took place in Garden State hospitals Sunday.

The statewide positivity rate is 1.81% and the rate of transmission (Rt) is 1.12 — meaning every positive test is leading to more than one additional. The hospital census is as follows: 349 coronavirus patients currently in treatment (164 unconfirmed), 87 in intensive or critical care and 32 on ventilators.

Asked whether the steady increases in daily cases and rate of transmission over the past seven weeks may indicate “early ripples” of a second wave, Ed Lifshitz, the state’s communicable disease expert, said that is not the case - although he remains vigilant.

“We would expect to see a number of different things. Certainly positivity, assuming we're testing enough, would be one of the early things that we'd expect to see. We look at the number of new cases…at visits to emergency departments and so forth,” Lifshitz said. “I’m always paying attention for the feeling of that undertow that might be suggesting that a wave is coming. And certainly any increase in numbers catches our attention and greatly increases our response to that area. But right now, I would not say it's a wave.”

Persichilli made a point toward the end of the press conference to differentiate between people - what has proven to be mostly youth - not wearing face masks purely as a decision and those struggling to mentally grapple with the ongoing COVID realities.

“On the pandemic fatigue, I think that the feeling, the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and wanting this to end is different than willful ignorance of wearing a mask,” she added. “When you think you're invincible, if you're young, and, you say, ‘Well, my friend had it…she just got a little sick. I can do that. No problem. I think that's a different issue. The issue we’re talking about is the emotional well-being of people really being affected by such a change in our normal day-to-day lives.”

Murphy will speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), about the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey during a virtual chat. The event will be held Thursday at 11:15 p.m. To tune in click here.

A breakdown of New Jersey's case/mortality summaries, contact tracing and long term care information is available here.

Watch today’s press conference below: