As delta variant drives cases, model predicts sharp increase in deaths

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | JULY 27, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Many months after coronavirus vaccines became widely available in New Jersey — and in the midst of what some predicted would be a nearly post-pandemic summer — state data shows the virus is now spreading quickly. COVID-19 cases are rising and an increasing number of infected patients are ending up hospitalized.

That trend could get far worse come fall, according to one respected academic model that predicts that by November thousands of people could again be hospitalized with COVID-19 and the daily death toll could reach as much as ten times the current level.

Gov. Phil Murphy said at his weekly pandemic media briefing Monday that an average of 936 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed daily over the past week, more than three times the rate reported two weeks ago.

“We are really beginning to see the increases over the recent term,” Murphy said, announcing another 750 new cases on Monday. “This is the first time since mid-May that we are adding this many cases in a day.”

More than 350 people are now hospitalized as a result of the virus, state officials said Monday, an uptick of roughly 30% from two weeks ago. “The trends we are seeing over the past several days suggest we are not done seeing these numbers continue to increase,” Murphy said.

A deadly autumn

Predictive modeling created by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests Murphy may be right. Under the IHME scenario for New Jersey, by early November as many as 9,000 people will be infected daily — although not all of these cases would be diagnosed — a rate not experienced here since early April 2021.

Hospitalizations would also begin to rise starting at the end of August, according to the IHME’s predictions, until November, when there could be nearly 2,400 COVID-19 patients in New Jersey’s acute care facilities — a level that might be sustained for weeks. That volume is akin to what hospitals experienced in mid-January 2021, just after the second wave of infections peaked.

Daily COVID-19-related deaths would also follow a similar schedule and pace, the IHME predicts. While far from the peaks seen earlier this year, fatalities could reach nearly 30 daily by November, according to the model, a rate far more severe than the current death toll of two to five people a day.

More than NJ endangered

The situation is not limited to New Jersey, as cases are rising around the nation, according to federal reports. While coronavirus immunizations are widespread in some states, including New Jersey, the emergence of the more transmissible delta variant is driving greater spread. Some regions are reinstituting masking and other infection-control requirements. Murphy said Monday a renewed mask mandate is not currently needed here, but the state must keep its options open.

The vast majority of the New Jerseyans now being infected, hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus are not immunized, health officials continue to stress. More than 5 million people have now been fully vaccinated here, but state data shows some communities with low inoculation rates continue to be vulnerable to the virus’ spread.

Murphy said Monday that 99% of the 32,000 COVID-19-positive hospital admissions between Jan. 19 and July 19 involved patients who were unvaccinated — and the percentage is even higher when it comes to the 5,400 coronavirus deaths recorded during that period. The few immunized individuals who did die had serious medical complications, he said.

“So, again – the vaccines work,” Murphy said. “The vaccines turn COVID into a preventable disease.”

‘Tweens and teens’ need to be jabbed

On Monday state health commissioner Judy Persichilli focused on the need for ‘tweens and teens to also get vaccinated soon, especially before school starts in the fall. Vaccines are currently available for children as young as 12 years old and Murphy stressed the need for youngsters to return to the classroom in-person when the school year begins.

But while immunization rates are close to 70% among adults in New Jersey, according to the state, uptake is slower among young people. Only 44% of those ages 12 to 17 have had at least one dose, Persichilli said Monday, and just over six in 10 of those 18 to 29 years.

“The best thing parents can do to protect the health of their children is to vaccinate them against this virus,” Persichilli said, thanking parents who have opted to immunize their kids. “Getting their children vaccinated allows them to safely return to schools, sports they enjoy and other activities they missed out on during the pandemic.”

“To ensure young adults are fully protected against the COVID-19 virus when they return to school, they need to get vaccinated now,” she added. The shots must be spaced three to four weeks apart, so the process needs to start soon, and Persichilli noted it is an opportunity for them to get other regular immunizations as well.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-07-27 02:09:29 -0700