With New Jersey dealing with a recent surge of coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy is encouraging people to use the 400-plus testing sites throughout the state to get tested for COVID-19. He is also saying that the first doses of a vaccine could be available in the state by Christmastime.
As of Friday, New Jersey was approaching 300,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic with tens of thousands of cases reported in just the past couple weeks. Another 3,635 new cases were reported Friday.
More than 2,500 people were hospitalized in New Jersey with around 450 people in the intensive care units and more than 200 on ventilators entering Friday. As of late September, less than 500 people were hospitalized with coronavirus in New Jersey.
The positivity rate for tests recorded on Monday was down to 7.98% with the statewide rate of transmission at 1.40, Murphy said.
Despite an downtick in numbers, Murphy warned people that modeling continues to show numbers going the wrong direction.
"The next two or three months are going to be brutal. It is going to get unequivocally worse," the governor said Friday.
Murphy reiterated the need for robust testing and contact tracing in slowing the virus.
The first-term Democrat acknowledged long lines at some testing sites and said that they are seeing shorter lines at testing sites on weekends. The state has been averaging around 45,000 tests administered a day this month. More pop-up testing sites will be open in the days to come.
"We are in a far, far different place than we were at the early stages of this pandemic," Murphy said while noting there are more than 400 testing locations in the state. "We have a testing program in place that is working overtime. We have the resources to continue to ensure a full testing regime across the state, and to ramp-up testing when hot spots emerge."
Murphy said that more than 2,300 contact tracers are now working in the Garden State.
"Take the call and work with our contact tracers to slow the spread of this virus," he said.
Murphy on Friday spoke optimistically about Pfizer asking for emergency federal authorization of its coronavirus vaccine. Murphy and health officials said they expect the state to get around 130,000 doses of the vaccine by Christmastime. Health care workers would get the first vaccinations.
By early 2021, there could be nearing half a million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the state, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
Persichilli said the Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, with 130,000 units of the vaccine coming in mid-December, followed by another 130,000 units by the end of the year. Moderna, which is given in two shots 28 days apart, would likely send 100,000 doses in December and another 100,000 weeks later, she said.
The announcement comes the same day Pfizer asked U.S. regulators for emergency use of its vaccine, with Moderna not far behind.
The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while Moderna's needs only refrigeration. Persichilli said 40 of the state's hospitals have said they have the ability to maintain ultra-cold storage.
New Jersey is aiming to vaccinate about 4.7 million adults, or about 70% of the state's population, within six months of availability, according to the commissioner.
The recent surge of cases has caused Newark's mayor to put in a curfew on nighttime activities, but Murphy has yet to announce sweeping statewide restrictions outside of a late-night indoor dining ban and indoor and outdoor gathering capacity limits.
The state is urging people not to have large indoor Thanksgiving meals. Murphy said the entire holiday season through the New Year's won't be normal and people must use common sense, masking and proper hygiene to keep the virus from spreading further.
Murphy announced an order Friday that allows, however, for Thanksgiving football rivalries to take place with 150 people in the stands. The players, coaches and referees critical to the game taking place won't be included in the state's new outdoor gathering limit.
Murphy said the order will expire after the sports season.
At least 14,900 people with coronavirus have died in New Jersey, with dozens reported in recent days. Twenty-three new deaths were reported Friday. Another more than 1,800 deaths are suspected to have died from coronavirus-related complications.