Murphy mulls reopening, as NJ hospitalizations go down for days
It's too early to say New Jersey is definitively, permanently past the biggest threat to its healthcare system posted by the novel coronavirus — but for days, state officials have been looking at encouraging numbers.
Every day since April 14, New Jersey has had fewer coronavirus patients in hospital beds than the day before. On Sunday, New Jersey was down to just under 7,000 hospitalizations, down from a peak just under 8,300 less than a week earlier.
On Sunday, New Jersey hospitals discharged 583 patients. In each of the few days prior, they let more than 800 patients go home. Those figures have been outpacing new admissions for days.
"(The) good news is hospitalization is down," Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. "Intensive care is a little peskier here."
New Jersey's hospitals have steadily been using around 1,100 of their critical care beds since April 11. ICU bed use has remained relatively stable as well, in the low-800s to low-900s on every date since then.
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Since coronavirus first appeared in New Jersey more than a month ago — growing to 88,806 known cases as of Monday, as well as 4.377 deaths — New Jersey officials have focused their messaging on one concern above all others: If we don't break the back of the virus with aggressive social distancing while ramping up treatment capacity, our hospitals will be overrun.
The plan, they said, was to "flatten the curve" — to slow the rates of new infections and death so the state could ramp up hospital capacity (which it's been doing, opening up field hospitals, reopening wings of closed hospitals, and making arrangements to send recovering patients to nursing homes and even hotels), and to acquire critical equipment such as ventilators (also an ongoing process, but one that's seen significant progress).
And a month into restrictions that lock down many aspects of New Jersey life — closing most retail, barring any gatherings, even eventually shutting down parks — the numbers are stabilizing. About 1,600 ventilators are in use, down from a peak on April 14 of just over 1,700. That represents 5.1 percent of the state's total capacity, after several awards from the federal stockpile and other sources.
Hundreds of new deaths and thousands of new cases are still being counted per day — but the rate at which new cases is doubling has slowed more than at any point since coronavirus become a reality in the Garden State.
"We have achieved some relative stability," Murphy said Monday.
Murphy has been under increasing pressure to reopen at least some aspects of the New Jersey economy, with President Donald Trump last week issuing guidelines to states for a gradual easing of restrictions. The guidelines suggest some states should reopen more slowly than others, and leave ultimate authority for doing so with governors — despite a considerably more urgent and demanding tone in the president's tweets and public statements. New Jersey remains the state with the second-highest number of known infections, only behind its neighbor, New York.
Protestors took to the streets of Trenton Friday insisting the restrictions be lifted. A woman police said organized the event was charged with violating the governor's executive order barring gatherings.
“We’ve been locked up for a month now. Now it is time to flatten the fear,” said participant Stephanie Locricchio, who was broadcasting the demonstration on her Facebook account. “We’re gathered in an effort to remind people that we have constitutional freedoms.”
Murphy, for his part, said he'll start unveiling plans coordinated with neighboring states to reopen New Jersey's economy in the next few days. But he cautioned a reopening wouldn't be quick, and wouldn't be sudden.
"We will be careful, and we will be strategic," Murphy said Monday. "We will make decisions based on facts and medical science so we do not experience, or exacerbate, a second, boomerang wave.