NEW JERSEY - New Jersey's COVID-19 caseload surged Thursday to levels not seen even during the height of the spring outbreak, with Gov. Phil Murphy and experts warning things could get worse.
The state recorded about 4,900 new cases overnight as New Jersey weathers another wave of the outbreak, Murphy, a Democrat, said Thursday in a tweet. The increase comes as weeklong averages of new cases have climbed steadily for weeks.
The Democratic governor also reported 64 new deaths overnight, putting the toll at 15,373.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over. We can’t give up the fight now. Mask up. Social distance. Wash your hands,” Murphy said in a tweet.
Murphy said Wednesday he’s keeping “all options on the table” when it comes to closing parts of the state’s economy again, as he ordered in the spring.
He urged people to be especially vigilant with Christmas coming up.
“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.”
The weekly average of new daily cases topped 4,000 earlier this week, up from 3,500 earlier this month and above the nearly 1,000 seen in October. New Jersey’s hospitalizations topped 3,000, Murphy said, a level not seen since May.
The climbing rates could stem from Thanksgiving travel.
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.
Another difference this time around is that patients admitted to hospitals are having better outcomes, said Dr. Nizar Kifaieh, CEO of Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus.
In the spring the number of COVID-19 patients quadrupled from March to April, and so many died that the hospital had to use a truck to store bodies when the hospital ran out of room.
Now, larger numbers of patients are being discharged and taken off ventilators, partly because doctors have a better understanding of which indicators to check for — such as conditions that increase the chance of blood clots — which guides treatment, Kifaieh said. Some of the treatments tested out in the spring, such as steroids, have become standard practice, he added.
He added that the improvement is also partly due to people with underlying conditions taking more precautions but warned that everyone must stay vigilant.
“At the end of the day, we can do as much as we can as health care providers, but really it’s up to the people to be cautious and prevent this disease from spreading and overwhelming the health care system,” he said.