The good news is that New Jersey may be able to add about 1,000 hospital beds in the next two weeks — with about another 400 beds on the way in five weeks or less.

But making sure hospitals are equipped with the staff and enough ventilators remain a concern.

Boosting the number of critical care beds, which currently stands at about 2,000, will be key in meeting a surge of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

To that end, the state has loosened regulations to allow medical personnel with out-of-state licenses to work in New Jersey and the state nurses' association has asked nurses with inactive licenses to help hospitals.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that all hospitals will be treating patients who may happen to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which can live several hours to several days on certain surfaces. There is no vaccine or cure.

State health officials and the Army Corps of Engineers are looking to reopen Underwood-Memorial Hospital, which closed a year ago in Woodbury. They're also looking to reopen Mulhenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield.

Authorities and hospital officials also are scrambling to reopen vacant or closed wings at existing hospitals.

Authorities also are looking at setting up field hospitals in South Jersey, which has less hospital capacity than North Jersey.

Long-term care facilities may also became the place where surgical hospitals send non-COVID-19 patients in order to make room for the critically ill, Persichilli said.

"No options are off the table," Persichilli said Saturday. "Efforts to expand bed capacity are critical in emergency preparedness."

State officials also are worried about the number of ventilators because COVID-19 leaves critically ill patients with pneumonia. Persichilli said the state has been engaged in "aggressive outreach to vendors."

Persichilli said Saturday that "we expect a lot of members of the public to get coronavirus." In an interview with, she said she's it's only a matter of time before she gets it. "We all are," she said.

State health officials are expecting a "moderate surge" at hospitals. About 80 to 85% of people who'll get the coronavirus will have mild symptoms that can be treated at home. About 15% will have to be admitted to a hospital. About 5% will need critical care. And 1 to 3% may die.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday stepped up efforts at social distancing, ordering all non-essential businesses to close by 9 p.m., and remain closed indefinitely. He encouraged the state's 9 million residents to stay home.

"The spread of the virus can be slowed if we act now and we act together," Persichilli said. "Social distancing – it is the key to stopping this. There is nothing more sophisticated about it."

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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