New Jersey hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are now back to levels last seen in May 2020 when the unchecked and rapid spread of the virus could not be slowed by vaccinations.
The number of people admitted to hospitals throughout the state had risen to 4,005 by Saturday, surpassing the peak of last winter's surge, which stood at 3,873. The state's highest recorded number of hospitalizations is still about half the all-time record set back in mid-April.
Since Dec. 1, before the first known case of the omicron variant had been detected in the Garden State, hospitalizations have increased by 289%.
The number of hospitalizations in New Jersey may not be setting records yet, but its daily number of positive cases continues to do so.
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A total of 29,740 new cases were reported on Saturday, that's up from 28,512 from Friday and 27,975 on Thursday. Roughly speaking, about one in every 100 residents has tested positive in the last three days alone.
The growth in infections is almost impossible to put into scale -- before Dec. 22, the state had never reported even 7,000 confirmed cases in a day.
Hospitalizations are once again a concern for the Garden State, whose largest hospital system warns of what's to come in the new year. Crisis planning is underway at Hackensack Meridian Health, as healthcare providers are now preparing to strike elective surgeries as early as mid-January.
It comes as the state hospital association issued a "Level Red," which means that virtually no visitation will be allowed at hospitals, except generally for birthing and pediatric cases — and even then, only one person is allowed at a time. Hospital diverts have also soared in recent days, as one in five emergency rooms were on divert Wednesday night.
According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, at the very depths of the pandemic, on April 14, 2020, there were 8,065 people hospitalized with the virus.
The number of people now on ventilators has risen to 297 as state health officials warn New Jerseyans not to visit ERs for COVID testing or for treatment of mild COVID symptoms. Anyone not needed emergency care is advised to contact local urgent care centers or primary care physicians.
“Seeking non-emergency care such as COVID-19 testing in an Emergency Department diverts critical staff time and resources from those with true emergencies,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement. “Our hospital Emergency Departments are experiencing very high volumes of individuals seeking COVID-19 testing."
"We understand that people want to be safe and follow our recommendations to get tested for COVID-19, but I want to remind the public that Emergency Departments are for those who need critical, life-saving care," Persichilli added.