How dangerous is the novel coronavirus for the average New Jersey resident?

Health officials in New Jersey and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest there are several variables that must be considered to answer that question. But generally speaking, the vast majority of people who get the disease recover — and many may not even get extremely sick.

“The current risk for the general public for development of COVID-19 illness is still low,” said Dr. Tina Tan, the New Jersey state epidemiologist, on Wednesday.

“There are communities where we’re seeing some of these sporadic cases that we’re monitoring as well as pockets where we’re seeing clustering of COVID-19 illnesses.”

Tan said if you’re exposed to one of those locations, whether it’s in New York, California or Washington, “you’re going to be a higher risk for actually getting COVID-19 because of the intensity of the virus being present in the community.”

If you do get the novel coronavirus, there’s a wide variety of symptoms you may get, ranging mild to extremely serious. But some people may not really get any symptoms, which could include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

According to the CDC, around 80% of people experience mild to moderate symptoms similar to a cold or flu, and can usually recover within a week or two.

The virus is more dangerous for some groups of people, particularly older adults, people with weakened immune systems and underlying medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney diseases.

“The reason why we’re also very concerned, too, is because this is a new situation that we’re seeing and we’re still in the process of trying to characterize what the scope of illness is," Tan said.

On Wednesday, the nation's director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Congress that COVID-19 is 10 times "more lethal" than the seasonal flu.

“Bottom line is it’s going to get worse,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that the novel coronavirus is also considered a serious risk because there is no vaccine.

"The treatment for the patient is the same whether they come in positive or negative — they’re treating the symptoms," she said.

She said to this point, testing for the novel coronavirus has been limited so it’s difficult to even estimate the real total number of cases we have had and how people have been affected.

“It’s suggested that 80-to-85% of them will be home and feeling flu like symptoms and doing well, 15% will end up in the hospital, and a very small percentage of that 15% will go on to be extremely ill or expire," Persichilli said.

“The risk is low but we’re watching it. I can’t sugar-coat that.”

So far in New Jersey, there are 23 confirmed presumed positive cases with one death. Nationally there have been more than 1,000 cases with at least 33 deaths.

In contrast, the CDC estimates so far this season there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from influenza. But the influenza viruses are far more prevalent than the new coronavirus, which the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared a pandemic.

 

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com