NJ’s COVID non-anniversary: Over 500 sick before last March 4
TRENTON – Much has been made about the March 4 anniversary of New Jersey’s first known COVID-19 infection, given the nearly 800,000 cases and 23,500 deaths that followed, upending everyday life for everyone.
But it’s an impossible anniversary to truly mark. While the first positive test result was registered that day, the virus was already lurking undetected. State data indicates that around 500 people who would ultimately test positive for COVID-19 were already sick by the time of that first positive test.
Moreover, the number who were sick before and after March 4, 2020, was certainly higher than what’s known, given the scarcity of testing early in the pandemic.
“We were in the dark. I mean, there’s kind of no other way to put it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “It’s not just us. It’s not just America. This thing clobbered, came in and clobbered the world. And it still is not done with us.”
The state’s COVID-19 dashboard presents data in a number of ways, including one chart that lists the known cases by the date of illness onset, rather than the date a positive test result was found. That one shows 253 cases had presented in the first three days of March, and just as many even earlier than that.
“We were flying without a net, going back to March and April, as opposed to other experiences we could draw upon,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex. “It was us and us.”
Since last September, when journalist Bob Woodward reported in a book that President Donald Trump discussed his concerns about the novel coronavirus with him in late January 2020, Democrats have said New Jerseyans and others were left vulnerable because Trump publicly downplayed the risk.
“It is unconscionable. It is an outrage,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester.
Murphy said he wishes he knew the depth of the existence of the virus earlier and that it’s galling that Trump didn’t share details about the seriousness of the threat.
“It was quite clear the federal administration knew stuff that we did not know, that they were not disclosing to either us as governors or to the public,” Murphy said. “And that cost lives.”
Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said Murphy and Democrats should stop blaming Trump for their handling of the pandemic. The state still has the nation’s highest rate of COVID-related deaths, at 264 per 100,000 residents.
“I think one of the things this administration is lacking the most by far is taking any responsibility,” Wirths said. “We all mistakes, and that’s all right. This was a very trying time.”
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has said the state would have acted perhaps a month sooner to ban visits to nursing homes if it knew of the risks and the extent of the virus in the state last winter. The first known outbreak in a nursing home was last March 11.
“This was a quiet enemy that was in our communities and invading our congregate living facilities way before we knew it,” Persichilli said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.