In the early days of the pandemic in spring 2020, Dr. Shereef Elnahal said 300 COVID-19 patients a day were filling the beds at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and so many people were showing up in the emergency room that triage tents had to be set up in the parking lot.
Elnahal, the CEO of University Hospital and the former New Jersey Commissioner of Health, recalled in an interview with ABC News that it was "the worst crisis that's really ever hit the hospital" and the Garden State's largest city.
But this week, New Jersey and New York each recorded the lowest number of coronavirus hospitalizations since the pandemic started roughly 18 months ago.
The total number of COVID patients hospitalized in New Jersey fell to 293 on Monday. A day earlier, New York reported that a total of 330 COVID patients were hospitalized.
By comparison, at the height of the pandemic in April 2020, 18,825 COVID patients were hospitalized across the state of New York, while New Jersey had 6,127 patients hospitalized with the virus, according to data from both states.
An average of around 11,200 patients are currently hospitalized with the virus across the country, down by 13% in the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
"It's just really incredible news and a long time coming," Elnahal said.
He said University Hospital now has less than 10 hospitalized COVID patients and that "it's been quite some time since we've even had a COVID-19 death."
At the peak of the pandemic, New Jersey was averaging 300 to 400 COVID-19 deaths per day, according to state data.
"We were seeing five to 10 deaths a day at one point," Elnahal said of the COVID fatalities at University Hospital alone.
In December and January, New Jersey and New York experienced a second wave of the virus. Hospitalization in New Jersey shot up to 3,802 on Jan. 19 and 9,273 in New York on the same day.
Elnahal said the first vaccine was administered in New Jersey on Dec. 15, 2020, and went to an emergency room nurse at University Hospital. The event hailed as "historic" at the time by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, came one day after New York administered its first vaccine dose to an intensive care nurse in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York City's Queens borough.
"The vaccines are the real reason we are able to continue to inch toward normalcy and the most important reason why we're celebrating this," Elnahal said, referring to the plummeting number of hospitalizations.
About 67% of adults in New Jersey have now been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 65% of adults in New York are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Nationwide, about 154.2 million people have been fully vaccinated, or about 46.4% of the total population, the latest CDC data shows.
"Our state has come a long way in beating back this virus, but our work continues because we need to get every New Yorker vaccinated," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Every shot in the arm brings us closer to defeating this beast once and for all, which is why we are continuing to work with our local partners across the state to make sure the vaccine is accessible in every community."
Gov. Murphy described his state's falling coronavirus hospitalizations as "another milestone" in its fight to defeat the virus.
The U.S.'s coronavirus metrics have been rapidly declining since infections peaked in January. In the last five months, daily COVID case numbers have fallen by nearly 96% nationwide.
According to an ABC News survey of state COVID dashboard data, upticks in COVID-19 infections are becoming increasingly apparent in some parts of the country, particularly in areas of low vaccination. Alabama (57.7%), Arizona (16.7%), Missouri (41.4%), Nevada (43.3%), Utah (22.3%), Virginia (20%) have seen increases in coronavirus cases over the last two weeks.
Additionally, the city of Miami has seen a 60% week-on-week increase in cases per capita, and in the last week, it had a 27% test positivity. Only 30% of the city's adults are fully vaccinated, well below the state average of 45.7%.
But Murphy cautioned that the vast majority of COVID patients hospitalized in the state and the 105 new positive cases reported on Monday "are almost exclusively of unvaccinated residents."
"Because of the vaccines in our toolbox, COVID is now largely a preventable illness," Murphy said at a news conference on Monday. "Nearly every number we count each day is one that didn't have to be if someone had gotten vaccinated."
Elnahal told ABC News that of the fewer than 10 patients now admitted to University Hospital, almost all are unvaccinated.
"One of the most risky things you can do with your health right now is to not get vaccinated," said Elnahal, citing the spread of the Delta variant, adding the mutant is "100% more transmissible than the original virus."
ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.
New Jersey, New York see lowest COVID hospitalizations since start of pandemic
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