A new wave of coronavirus is coming to N.J. Here’s why things might be different this time around.
Taken from NJ.com
By Payton Guion | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com and Riley Yates | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
October 17, 2020
They told us it was coming.
Since before the state got the first coronavirus crisis under control, health experts and government officials have been warning of a second wave. They weren’t exactly sure when it would come, but they were sure that it would.
It now appears to be on the cusp of arrival. This week saw three straight days in which New Jersey reported more than 900 new cases of the coronavirus, and for the first time in two months, there are more than 700 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Thursday and Friday.
Even though a handful of hotspot counties — including Ocean and Monmouth — have captured attention recently, Gov. Phil Murphy said the increase is statewide.
“There is only one way to get these numbers back down to where they were only a few weeks ago, and that is by doing the basics — wearing a face mask, by social distancing, and washing your hands frequently with soap and water,” the governor said at a news briefing Thursday. “As the weather cools, these numbers are not going to change themselves. Only we can change them.”
As terrifying as the possibility of another major coronavirus crisis is — it’s hard not to think of April, when hundreds of people in the state were dying every day from COVID-19 — there are some reasons to believe New Jersey will fare better this time around.
The main reason: Preparation.
“I think the state has all the systems in place,” said Perry Halkitis, the dean of the Rutgers University School of Public Health. “The question is are people going to do what they’re supposed to do.
“We have a knowledge base of seven months. We should be in better shape this time than last time.”
Think about it like this: As the first wave was spreading unchecked in early March, hardly anyone had masks, the state had no plans for testing and contact tracing, people were still packing onto NJ Transit trains and attending sporting events.
All of that has changed, along with just about everything else in our lives.
Even the government’s planned response to a second wave is different. Rather than a statewide, crippling shutdown, like happened in the spring, Murphy hopes to be more surgical.
While the Murphy administration did not respond to requests for further comment on its planned response to the second wave, the governor has spoken recently about his hesitancy to reimpose broad restrictions.
“I sure as heck hope we don’t and I do not anticipate it,” Murphy said a couple of weeks ago during a virtual town hall on Facebook Live. “I will be profoundly saddened and I will say shocked if we have to shut the whole place down again. I just don’t see that.”
As the state braces for the second wave, there’s a lot of apprehension. Could hospitals be overwhelmed? Schools shuttered again? Already struggling businesses dealt that final blow that pushes them under? Here are what key officials and experts say they expect as the state’s preparations over the past several months are tested.
Last spring, New Jersey’s hospital system was strained nearly to a breaking point as a flood of coronavirus patients threatened to drown ICUs.
As the chief medical and quality officer for the massive RWJBarnabas Health network, Dr. John Bonamo lived through those days. He remembers one evening, when the network had to rush ventilators from one hospital to another, to meet a surge of severely sick patients.
Talk of a second wave brings fears of a return to that crisis. But Bonamo said the hospital system is prepared to meet any new threat.
“Most of us in the field really do not believe we will see what we did then,” Bonamo said.
As COVID-19 ripped through the state, New Jersey’s hospitals added more than 1,000 ICU beds, going from 1,861 pre-coronavirus, to 3,100 in April, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association. Currently, there are about 2,350 ICU beds in place, but hospitals have maintained the infrastructure to bring others back quickly if needed, the association says.
Hospitals say they have been stockpiling personal protective equipment and have gotten better at treating the coronavirus. They’ve learned how to quickly screen patients who have COVID-19 and to keep them separate from the rest of the hospital’s population, unlike in the early days of the outbreak, when those patients and staff were mixed together.
Murphy has also said the state has been stocking up on protective equipment and certain treatments for the virus.
Drugs like remdesivir, steroids and blood-thinner medications, meanwhile, have shown promise in reducing the disease’s worst impacts. That also compares to the spring, when doctors were trying all kinds of treatments that ultimately proved ineffective, Bonamo said.
“Back in March and April, we were dealing with a disease that we didn’t really understand,” Bonamo said. “We had not seen a virus at this level of contagion in over 100 years. So we were, of course, unprepared.”
At state-owned University Hospital in Newark, officials say they are also ready for a new surge, even if it proved worse than what was seen in April, when hospitalizations statewide topped out at 8,084 coronavirus patients and 82% of the state’s intensive care beds were filled.
“Taking lessons learned, I think we are in a really good position this time,” said Dennis Boos, University Hospital’s director of emergency management.
Still, many nurses on the frontlines across New Jersey remain worried that there won’t be enough staff or that stores of personal protective equipment aren’t sufficient, said Barbara Rosen, the first vice president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents 14,000 health care workers.
During the height of the crisis, Rosen said, some nurses were forced to reuse masks for several days, hanging them on hooks when they left at the end of their shifts. While it has gotten better, “there still seems to be a supply issue throughout the state,” she said.