A couple times per week, the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is posted in graphic form alongside Gov. Phil Murphy during his regular coronavirus briefings for the press and public. More than 24,000 state residents have died as a result of the virus.

But a figure you're much less likely to see is the number of New Jerseyans whose lives were saved by health professionals across the Garden State over the past 12 months.

"New Jersey has endured a year of loss, fear, stress and isolation — but there also is light in this dark year," said New Jersey Hospital Association President and CEO Cathy Bennett. "New Jersey hospitals and their care teams faced a never-before-seen virus with courage, skill and an unyielding drive to save lives."

Taking a look back at the past year, a new report from NJHA finds that 86% of patients hospitalized with severe coronavirus illness were successfully treated and discharged. That equates to a total of more than 66,000 individuals through March 10, 2021.

The COVID-patient release rate at New Jersey hospitals increased from 73.7% in April 2020 to 88.6% in February 2021. According to the NJHA report, that increase in the survival rate suggests 7,000 deaths were averted, due to hospital innovations and continued improvements in care.

"You might remember, when this pandemic began we were calling it a novel virus," Bennett said. "We didn't really know exactly what we were dealing with when the COVID surge hit here in New Jersey."

New Jersey's first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on March 4 of last year. By March 31, the state's case count would grow to nearly 18,700, with 5,340 hospitalized COVID patients.

The number of COVID hospitalizations would peak two weeks later, on April 14, at 8,270. During April, about a quarter of the patients with severe COVID illness required an intensive care bed. Typical capacity of ICU beds is around 1,800 at the state's 71 acute care hospitals.

"When we think about that time period in March and in April, if New Jersey had been a nation, we would have been ranked ninth nationally in terms of our COVID burden," Bennett said.

Through mid-March 2021, just 11% of COVID-19 patients would need an ICU bed. The percentage of patients who required ventilation declined from 27.5 in April 2020 to 13.5 by the end of 2020.

"A patient arriving in a hospital in New Jersey today is much better positioned than a patient was last March," Bennett said. "That's really because of the amount of learnings that our hospitals have garnered over the past year."

The impact of COVID-19 will resonate in New Jersey for years to come, NJHA's report said.

"COVID-19 has provided a dramatic reminder of the importance of health and healthcare in our society, and in our economy," the report said. "We must continue to prioritize good health for individuals and communities, along with the needed funding and resources to adequately support the healthcare infrastructure, public health, emergency preparedness and the supply chain."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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