LIVINGSTON, NJ — In response to a common inquiry from residents about why the number of COVID-19 deaths and mortality rate appears to be disproportionately high in Livingston, the township has released useful statistics related to the current number of cases while still adhering to strict legal limitations that have been put in place to protect sensitive patient health information.

As of the Livingston Health Department’s April 20 report, there have been 346 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Livingston and 44 deaths related to the novel coronavirus. According to the township, the seemingly disproportionate mortality rate is primarily due to the number of long-term care facilities located in Livingston, including nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and acute care and rehabilitation facilities.

The Township of Livingston released the following statistics related to the most recent report from the local health department:

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  • Of the 346 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Livingston, 160 cases are from long-term care facilities.
  • Of the 44 deaths related to COVID-19, 35 were from long-term care facilities and nine were from private residences.
  • The majority of deceased patients (91 percent) were 75 and older.
  • All four of the deceased individuals under 75 years old were 55 years or older and had one or more underlying medical issues.
  • The average age of deceased COVID-19 patients overall in Livingston is 85.8 years old.

“As the medical experts have unanimously stated, the elderly and those with serious underlying medical conditions are the most at risk for serious complications, including death, from COVID-19,” the governing body said in a joint statement, reiterating that these long-term care facilities almost exclusively house elderly persons and that many of the residents have underlying medical conditions. “Livingston’s experience is fully consistent with and, unfortunately, confirmative of those facts...

"The collective thoughts and prayers of our community go out to all of those who have suffered the loss of a loved one or who have a loved one, or are themselves, suffering from this virus."

Acknowledging that many residents are seeking more detailed information concerning the COVID-19 cases and deaths that have occurred in Livingston, including the locations and ages of the victims, the mayor, council and township manager said that they “want to be as transparent and open as possible” but that there are “very strict legal limitations on what information the township can and cannot share with the public.”

The township noted that under the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996” (HIPAA)—a federal law that was created “to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge”—the township cannot legally disclose the names, addresses, dates of birth, underlying medical conditions or other sensitive health information of any identified COVID-19 case or death.

After reviewing the legal restrictions and following guidance from the State of New Jersey, however, the township has confirmed that it is able to release “overall statistical information without identifying, or linking such information to, any specific individual.”

The township reiterated that the information relayed in this article has been shared with the intention of being “as responsive as [the township is] legally permitted to be" to the many questions being asked. 

Other common questions from residents have been related to the total number of Livingston residents who have been tested, how many of those residents have tested negative and a total number of cases that includes those who are presumably positive but have not been officially tested.

The township reiterated that the Livingston Health Department does not receive any information on negative test results and that there is “no formal reporting system—at the local, county, state or national level—for testing and/or reporting untested cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic but untested and untreated individuals.”

“Only with eventual antibody testing will we have a clearer idea of how many people actually were infected with the virus,” the township stated. “The only information that the township receives relates to COVID-19 cases with confirmed test results, for which the health department then receives information on those confirmed cases and outcomes, i.e. death, in recovery or recovered. The information on those in recovery vs. recovered is fluid and incomplete, as there is a lag in reporting on recovering patients.”

The only truly accurate information that the Township of Livingston has available “principally relates to the total number of confirmed cases and the number of deceased.”

The Livingston Health Department remains actively involved in following up on all cases involving Livingston residents and maintains a local listing of cases and deaths. This list is reported daily to Essex County, which in turn shares information with the state and other sources.

The township also acknowledged that a vast number of outlets, both governmental and media, that are regularly publishing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributable to Livingston have often presented different numbers.

In Essex County’s report on Tuesday morning, the county explained that the differing reports are due to the fact that “cases are continually entering the system, and local health departments may reassign place of residence as appropriate during their investigations.”

The county also reiterated that “the number of infected individuals in any municipality is likely to be much greater than indicated," as the data being released "only includes persons who have been tested and whose lab results have been reported in the state’s data system.”

Regardless of the number of cases—which includes 11,083 cases and 847 deaths in Essex County as of 9 a.m. on Tuesday—the county stressed that “social distancing, hand hygiene and other steps to prevent infection must be followed at all times in all municipalities.”