What to Know
- The United States smashed its own single-day case record for the second straight day Thursday; it has also set new daily death and hospitalizations records in the last 72 hours
- No state has been untouched by the latest surge; NY and NJ have seen alarming growth in hospitalizations in just the last few weeks -- and the "post-Thanksgiving effect" has yet to fully materialize
- Elementary schools in NYC can reopen Monday with increased testing and de Blasio wants kids to be able to attend five days a week; a number of principals say they just don't have the capacity
Exactly nine months to the day since New Jersey reported its first confirmed coronavirus case, it smashed its single-day case record for the second time in two days. Friday's number -- 5,673 -- topped the previous record by 700-plus.
It's a pattern reflective of the current plight in America, with the United States setting and then besting again new single-day case, death and hospitalization records over the last 72 hours. The holiday effect won't even be known for weeks.
How much worse could it get? Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to delve into the state's COVID modeling next week, when his health commissioner, who has been quarantined after exposure to an infected person, returns to join his briefings.
Like Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, Murphy says the numbers will get worse -- it's just a matter of degree.
According to an NJ.com report ahead of Murphy's Friday briefing, the state's "moderate" projection model has New Jersey peaking around 5,400 new daily cases by mid-December and nearly 5,000 hospitalizations by New Year's Day. The latter metric isn't expected to substantially decline until March under the moderate model, which presumes people continue with mitigation efforts.
The 5,000 hospitalization projection includes nearly 1,000 people in intensive or critical care and more than 600 on ventilators, NJ.com reported.
Those projections are markedly higher than where the state stands currently, though not nearly as what it saw in spring, when there were more than 8,000 people in hospitals. As of now, New Jersey is averaging more than 4,100 new daily cases over the last week. Hospitalizations have topped 3,300, numbers not seen since May, with 615 patients in intensive care and 386 on ventilators.
While hospitalizations have soared in recent weeks, officials do expect fewer critical hospitalizations and less death than they saw at the crisis' peak in the spring, given improvements in treatment. Murphy says capacity is OK for now.
But they do not want people lowering their collective guards -- even with the prospect of a vaccine on the near horizon. It's not here yet, and it won't come all at once. While New Jersey and New York both expect to receive several hundred thousand doses from Pfizer and Moderna over the next six weeks, those will go to high-risk healthcare workers and frontline nursing home staff. That's just a drop in the bucket compared with the 75 percent to 85 percent of the population Cuomo says experts say need to be vaccinated to return the economy to a sort of normal.
In the meantime, people have to stay vigilant. As Murphy urged New Jerseyeans Friday, "An end can now be considered a when and not an if and we can count it in months. We just have to hang on everybody, a little bit longer, because this virus is still moving throughout our state and residents are still falling ill."
"This is going to be rough," the governor said of the next few months. "But people's behavior can make it less rough."
He urged people to be especially conscious with Christmas coming up just as he had done for Thanksgiving. It's still too early to tell if climbing rates could stem from Thanksgiving travel because the virus incubation period is 10 to 14 days.
With no state untouched by the latest U.S. surge, Murphy abandoned his quarantine list for a new travel advisory earlier this week. He now says no New Jersey resident should travel outside the state unless for essential work. Period.
When pressed about the potential for larger-scale restrictions, he continues to say "everything is on the table" -- and did so most recently on "Morning Joe" Friday.
"I'd be abdicating my responsibility if we didn't have every option on the table. And where we've seen transmission, we've surgically attacked it," Murphy said. "We don't have a wholesale evidence that just because you're indoors in a given environment, indoor entertainment, gym, restaurant, that necessarily your risk has gone up. We knew that all along, but is it beyond that manageable risk? We don't see that yet, but all options I have to say remain on the table."
As of Saturday morning, all indoor youth and adult winter sports — including hockey, basketball, swimming and more — are suspended. Starting Monday, outdoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people.
"Hang on a little bit longer everybody, because this virus is still moving through our state and residents are still falling ill," Murphy said.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
All options are on the table in New York City as well. The five boroughs have seen daily case averages soar to late April highs (they topped 2,000 new daily cases Friday for the first time since April 30) and hospitalizations soar by more than 120 percent in just the last three weeks. The city's seven-day rolling average is now above 5 percent, just two weeks after it hit the mayor's 3 percent threshold to close schools to in-person learning. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday he's discussing potential additional restrictions with Cuomo but didn't elaborate.
The mayor's words come as NYC elementary schools get ready to reopen on Monday for in-person learning, and de Blasio is still pushing schools to offer classroom learning five days a week.
"To all our principals and educators: This is a decision that the chancellor and I have made. It's not up for debate. We need to provide the most in-person instruction possible for our children," the mayor said.
The local challenges are reflective of national trends that officials say are deeply alarming and grow more so by the day.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned earlier this week that the COVID risk today is at a "historic high" for all Americans, though the danger is especially high for people older than 65 and those with preexisting health conditions. New York City health officials issued a new public advisory this week telling higher-risk populations to severely curtail nonessential activities outside the home.
The overall mortality rate is lower than it was in the spring. Cuomo says it's about 8 percent of hospitalized patients in New York now compared with about 23 percent earlier this year. But those at-risk populations are by default more likely to never recover if they contract the viral respiratory illness.
"Currently, instead of 25 percent going to ICU [in the spring], 18 percent [now] go to ICU," Cuomo said on a press call Friday. "Instead of 85 percent, only 45 percent are intubated. The length of stay in the hospital in March and April: 11 days. It is now less than half that, it is down to five days."
Shoring up hospital capacity is a top priority right now, along with developing optimal plans for vaccine distribution and public messaging. Leery of a surge that has seen New York's hospital admissions top 4,000 (up to 4,222 on Friday) for the first time since late May, Cuomo triggered emergency protocol this week to boost hospital capacity. The state's ICU capacity, Cuomo said Friday, hovers around 40 percent.
The number of positive cases reported Friday climbed to 11,271 -- nearly setting a new single-day record for New York. The state's all-time high was set back on April 14, when 11,521 positive cases were reported from 26,869 tests. Since the spring, New York's daily testing has multiplied; on Friday the 11,271 results came from a total of 208,297 tests.
Cuomo said New York's statewide daily positivity rate rose above 5.4 percent on Friday, but added that number isn't "relevant anymore." He clarified, "We're really focusing on the hospitalization rate and hospital capacity."
No new micro-cluster zones were announced by the governor ahead of the weekend. Cuomo said he's waiting to see the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings.
Nationally, hospitalizations are at historic highs. The head of the CDC warned earlier this week that the next few months of the pandemic pose the greatest public health challenge in history. Up to 450,000 Americans could die of COVID by February, he fears. That means another 175,000 deaths over the next eight weeks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says the anticipated holiday surge may not be felt for weeks. He described the current climate as "a little bit of blip" in an interview on the "TODAY" show Friday.
"That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday," Fauci said.
Fauci pleaded with Americans again Friday to continue with precautions as the nation braces for the hit: "Please, as best as you can, uniform wearing of masks, keep distances to the best possible way you can, avoid crowds in congregate settings, particularly indoors, and if you are indoors in that circumstance, always wear your mask."
The CDC came out with a new advisory on Friday regarding masks, urging everyone to adopt universal mask usage indoors when not at home.
When will it all be over? The vaccine is the end game, the light at the end of the tunnel, Cuomo says. But it's not a short tunnel. And there are already hiccups.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Pfizer's current vaccine rollout target is only half of what it originally and privately planned. The drugmaker publicly said it plans to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of the year, but the Journal reports supply chain problems forced that number down from an original 100 million doses. Pfizer has also said it plans to ship up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
"There are several factors which have impacted the number of doses estimated to be available in 2020," Pfizer said in a statement. "For one, scaling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have moved forward in the unknown."
As they wait, states are developing detailed vaccine plans. In New Jersey, Murphy said Friday his administration has been working on distribution plans since March. He signed an executive order changing inclusion in New Jersey's Immunization Information System from opt-in to opt-out for any resident who chooses to take the vaccine to make the process even more efficient.
"We are ready for this moment," Murphy said, but also urged caution. "The presence of a vaccine in our state does not mean that we can flip a light switch and remove all restrictions. Full brightness will take months and millions of New Jerseyans getting vaccinated."