NEW JERSEY — The front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey appears to now be in Ocean County, which has made up 28% of the state's 3,660 new cases over the last six days.
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday that a “hotspot team” will soon increase testing capacity in the Jersey Shore county and the state will deploy 20 contact tracers 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," Gov. Phil Murphy said at his coronavirus press briefing Monday at the George Washington Ballroom in Trenton. “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 over 13,000 cases have occurred, accounted for 242 of the state's new 561 cases on Monday. That's roughly 40%.
"By contrast, there were also 54 cases reported today for Middlesex County. That was number two," Murphy continued. "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, for a total of 14,316 deaths (1,791 considered probable).
The positivity rate in New Jersey is 2.48%, the rate of transmission continues to hover at 1.12 and the hospital census reads as follows: 421 being treated in NJ hospitals (236 confirmed), 91 patients in intensive or critical care and 39 people on ventilators. There were 16 deaths in hospitals Sunday believed to be linked to COVID-19, but 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 - although he did not rule out other indoor activities.
He said re-administering indoor restrictions is always something he and his team consider.
Speaking on the response to the spike, Persichilli said the 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,” Murphy explained. “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," Murphy said. "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.”
Watch Monday's press conference below: