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Persichilli: ‘Double Down on Social Distancing’

Herald 10.21.20 pg3.jpg

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – “Our behavior now will shape the holidays we experience.” Those words from state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli Oct. 19 came as she reported on the second straight day in which new COVID-19 cases topped 1,000. 
That day’s total of 1,192 followed the Oct. 18 count of 1,282. For the week just past, New Jersey experienced over 7,000 cases.
What makes these numbers even more troubling is that they are no longer linked to a limited number of hot spots or super spreader events, but rather the result of community spread across several counties. 
Five counties reported over 100 new daily confirmed cases Oct. 19, and three othershad 75 new cases or more.
By contrast, Cape May County remains in a pattern of slow, moderate case growth. The county saw 52 new cases thisweek, but has a total of only 71 active cases atthe end of the week. 
Almost as many people moved off the active list, freed from quarantine, as the number that moved onto it. The number of active cases, in the county, at the beginning of the week was 65 and 71 at the end. The county has the lowest case ratio to the population of any county in the state.
At his Oct. 19 news briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said, “The virus is still circulating.” One look at rapidly rising national numbers of COVID-19 cases and at overwhelmed hospitals in many states confirms that the virus remains, ready to react to circumstances favorable for its spread.
Predictions of a rise in cases, in New Jersey, as summer gave way to fall were correct but for none of the reasons the prognosticators gave. The opening of schools and easing of restrictions for indoor activity at various types of businesses were at the heart of earlier predictions.
State health officials said schools and businesses were relatively minor players in the rise of community spread. The culprit, according to the epidemiologists, is private gatherings in homes.
As the weather cools, more people retreated inside for gatherings, giving the virus, officials believe, a pathway for spreading.
Persichilli asked New Jerseyans to “double down on social distancing” and the other public health measures people were asked to practice for seven months. She noted that the lag time for infections and complications means people’s behavior will impact the holiday experience.
Some were encouraged by a seeming decline in the mortality rate for the disease. Fewer people appear to be dying from confirmed infections.
This appears to be partly due to a shift in the demographics of the infected individuals, with vulnerable populations in nursing homes being replaced by younger, generally healthier individuals as the main source of new infections. Those encouraged by a lower mortality rate had new information to digest this week.
Health officials kept adding to growing evidence that COVID-19 infection can have long-term implications for the health of individuals who survive an infection, even for those with relatively mild symptoms.
An Oct. 8 Harvard paper summarized the long-term impact of COVID-19 on cognitive ability. The conclusion was that “COVID infection frequently leads to brain damage.” 
Safety for the young was not assured, as the study added that young individuals have a heightened likelihood of negative outcomes, including stroke.
Another report this month notes that “some people who have had a mild or moderate illness go on to develop lasting symptoms” after recovering from the initial illness.
Television news stories indirectly reinforce those warnings when they broadcast hospital staff cheering patients who are being discharged after 100 or even 200 days in the hospital battling the virus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that fatalities among those infected decreased, but, since Sept. 19, hospitalizations increased.
 The pandemic’s impact continues to emerge in unexpected ways.
Murphy announced that 1.75 million votes were cast with two weeks to go before Election Day. The COVID-19-driven, vote-by-mail election process reached a point where over 45% of votes cast in the 2016 election were received by election officials, in 2020. As candidates continue to debate and advertise, it is reaching the point where half of the voters recorded their decisions.
Murphy spoke of the “current uncertainty,” as he also announced that the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is extending its program for expanded premises service of liquor to March 15. This may be an indication that the state does not see an end to the health crisis any time soon.
Schools that opened with all-remote education will be allowed to extend that form of instruction to January 2021, if they elect to do so.
Travel became even more complicated this week, as New Jersey’s travel advisory lists 36 states and two jurisdictions from which visitors or returning New Jerseyans are asked to self-quarantine. The rise in cases in the Garden State has led to New Jersey being listed on other states’ advisories.
Murphy’s advice, even with the approaching holidays, is “don’t travel.”
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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