COVID-19 Has Spread to Nearly Every Nursing Home in NJ; Deaths Continue to Spike

Nearly every long-term care facility in the state has reported at least one case of the coronavirus, with 90 percent of New Jersey's 375 centers reporting a confirmed case

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As officials throughout the tri-state say there are signs of hope that the COVID-19 outbreak is lessening ever-so-gradually, one population has been hit particularly hard in New Jersey: long-term care facilities.

Nearly every nursing home in the state has reported at least one case of the coronavirus at their facility, with 90 percent of New Jersey's 375 centers with a confirmed case. That includes dozens of more deaths just from Monday into Tuesday.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said she will order inspections whenever necessary to ensure the facilities are taking proper care and precautions to prevent the virus from further spread. One such inspection came in the middle of the night over Easter weekend.

"If I get a complaint or concern somebody goes out and we rely on our health officers. They are the unsung heroes," Persichilli said. "If there is a facility that's at-risk, they will be visited."

And given the news out of many of the homes, more visits will be warranted.

At the state veterans home in Paramus, National Guard medics have stepped in to replace sick staff. As for the residents, just short of half the population here were confirmed or are awaiting confirmation of being positive for COVID-19, with 27 deaths. The unofficial toll may be higher by about a dozen or more.

The death toll at another veterans home, in Menlo Park, was at only two before shooting up rapidly to 17.

In Elizabeth, three long-term care facilities are now reporting a combined total of 65 deaths, according to the city health official. One of the homes there appeared to have a problem with under-reporting (or a lack of reporting) the number of cases coming from there, potentially making the situation worse.

Adding to the grim news: The health commissioner saying that New Jersey is not expected to hit its peak number of cases until April 25.

While the evacuation of the St. Joe's Senior Living Center in Woodbridge to another home half an hour away drew headlines in March, the state found moving people to COVID and non-COVID nursing homes was quickly eclipsed by the spread of the virus. Now only a couple dozen homes in the state are still coronavirus-free, and hospitals are being tasked with picking up the slack.

Persichilli said the state is working with different hospitals to provide 300 new beds for those awaiting nursing home placement.

A Rutgers aging and healthcare expert told NBC New York that nursing home conditions are ripe for rapid spread of communicable illnesses like COVID-19, given the complexities of the care required.

"They require multiple nurses, nurse's aides and physicians to interact with them multiple times a day," said Dr. XinQi Dong. "It’s much harder when someone needs basic activity for daily living such as bathing, dressing, transferring going to the toilet, they need help otherwise it puts them at substantial risk."

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