NJ Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 pandemic 'nowhere near over,' Gov. Murphy warns

New Jersey coronavirus update
NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- The daily coronavirus positivity rate has jumped to 10.42% in New Jersey, and Governor Phil Murphy is urging residents who are planning to travel now or during the holidays to think again.

The state's COVID-19 caseload has surged to levels not seen even during the height of the spring outbreak, and Murphy and experts are warning things could get worse.

"This pandemic is nowhere near over," Murphy said in a tweet. "We can't give up the fight now. Mask up. Social distance. Wash your hands."

After a dramatic spike in deaths, with 90 from Monday's report, there were 49 additional fatalities reported Friday to raise the statewide death toll to 15,419.

The state recorded 5,673 new cases, as weeklong averages of new positive results have climbed steadily for weeks. Murphy is begging residents not to travel or gather in groups, and anyone who does is urged to self-quarantine for 14 days and get tested.

"This is Grinch times 5. Don't travel," he said Wednesday, urging people even to keep their distance from Santa. "Santa's got to wear a face covering. You've got to wear a face covering."

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Residents in Essex County are being urged to get tested, which is free to all county residents who sign up online.

Murphy is pausing all indoor sports starting Saturday, and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people beginning Monday.

As for the vaccine, the governor is on record saying he will get it when its his turn. So far, six hospitals are set to receive the first doses, including University Hospital in Newark. However, in the meantime, Murphy is worried about increasing number of COVID patients going to emergency rooms.

The governor said on Friday that several hospitals in the state are pre-positioning to receive the first shipments of Pfizer's vaccine. Murphy anticipates that this first distribution will include roughly 76,000 doses.

"We'll be situated to begin providing vaccinations after FDA emergency use authorization," Murphy said.

The governor also signed an executive order changing inclusion in the NJ Immunization Information System from OPT-IN to OPT-OUT for any resident who chooses to take a COVID-19 vaccine. He says it will add efficiency for those who take the vaccine and it doesn't mean that anyone will be forced to take it.

Additionally, as more health care workers are being sidelined by the virus, Palisades Medical Center had some 40 members of its staff out due to COVID-19. At Ocean Medical Center in Brick, 100 staff members were out because of the coronavirus.

As for the union representing 14,000 nurses and hospital workers statewide, there is a lot of concern over staffing issues and COVID illnesses.

Chief Physician Executive at Hackensack Meridian Health Dr. Dan Varga said staffing levels are more than adequate to handle COVID and other patients, but he is also looking at the models from the state which suggest the peak for hospitalizations in the second surge will come Jan. 1.

"Right now we're only at 1/3 of the overall capacity of COVID patients we were dealing with in April, so we have capacity," Varga said.

In addition, a survey of healthcare workers at University Hospital found only 50% willing to take the vaccine. The head of the hospital hopes to convince his workers the vaccine is safe and effective.

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State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said Wednesday such a spike could happen, but it's too early to tell because the incubation period is about 14 days.

"We do expect that given the volume of travel over the holiday weekend that there might be concern for spikes," she said.

Though the cases are higher now than in the spring, New Jersey is now testing tens of thousands of people a day. Officials say that indicates the levels could have been higher earlier in the year but the picture wasn't clear because of the lack of testing.

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