TRENTON, NJ — The front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey appears to now be in Ocean County, which has made up 28 percent of the state's 3,660 new cases over the last six days, according to state officials.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said during Monday's state COVID-19 briefing that a “hotspot team” will soon increase testing capacity in the Jersey Shore county, and the state will deploy 20 contact tracers on Tuesday to help efforts on the ground.
“We continue to see the statewide number driven in large part, not completely, but in large part by significant new cases coming out of Ocean County," said Gov. Phil Murphy. “We're maintaining our lines of communication with county and community leaders as we work together to mitigate these outbreaks."
Ocean County, where 1,048 coronavirus deaths and more than 13,000 cases have been reported as of this week, accounted for 242 of the state's new 561 cases on Monday, or roughly 40 percent of the total in New Jersey.
"By contrast, there were also 54 cases reported today for Middlesex County," said Murphy. "That was number two; but all other counties were 35 new case cases or fewer, and that's a good thing.”
With the 561 new positive cases, the Garden State as a whole now has a total of 204,107-confirmed COVID-19 cases. The death toll rose by one on Monday for a total of 14,316 deaths (1,791 considered probable).
The positivity rate is currently at 2.48 percent in New Jersey while the rate of transmission continues to hover at 1.12.
As of Monday, there were 421 patients being treated in New Jersey hospitals, including 236 confirmed COVID-19 patients. Of those being treated in hospitals, 91 patients are currently in intensive or critical care, and 39 people are on ventilators, according to state health officials. There were 16 deaths in hospitals Sunday believed to be linked to COVID-19 but that have yet to be lab-confirmed.
It was not explicitly said what is driving the new cases in Ocean County, but Murphy said it is not believed to be indoor dining. However, he did not rule out other indoor activities and said that re-administering indoor restrictions is always something he and his team consider.
According to Persichilli, the primary goal right now is to increase testing and contact-tracing capacity.
Earlier in the press conference, Murphy also announced that New Jersey as a whole will receive a testing boost.
Of the 150 million rapid BinaxNOW screening kits approved for the United States, Murphy says 2.6 million will be shipped to New Jersey. In the coming weeks, 170,000 will arrive and be distributed across the state of 9 million.
“This is an antigen test that can provide results in 15 minutes with a very easy nasal swab, as opposed to the straight-up-turn-left variety that we all started with […] these new tests will significantly scale up our testing capabilities,” said Murphy. “In the call that we all just left, this could be a game-changer. When you do the math, it's just shy of doubling our daily testing capacity for about 12 weeks.”
The governor said such a delivery of rapid tests could allow the health department to combat volatile situations like that in Ocean County, become a “big weapon” for limiting spread in schools and generally tend to vulnerable populations quicker.
"We are not out of the woods yet and the numbers we've been seeing the past week or so bare that out," said Murphy. "We are all experiencing some level of understandable fatigue, that's only nature after the past nearly seven months. But now is the time we have to dig deep and find some added resolve.”