Third Wave Hits NJ As Hospitalizations Rise Among Younger Groups

New Jersey health officials are warning of a “long and difficult” spring and summer as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state continue to rise. 

“We are definitely in another wave of this virus,” State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said during a press briefing in Trenton on Wednesday.

New Jersey has one of the highest per capita infection rates in the country with a rolling 7-day average of about 4,400 cases a day. Across the state’s 71 hospitals, more than 2,300 people are sick with the coronavirus—a 21% increase in the last two weeks. Another 344 COVID patents were admitted in the last 24 hours—a 28% increase in new hospitalizations in the last two weeks. 

But Persichilli said the bulk of severe cases is coming from those under 60 years old. She said hospitalizations for people in their 20s increased by 31% this month. For people in their 40s, it surged by 50%. While patients needing intensive care increased by 16%, ventilator use has decreased slightly. 

Health officials said part of the reason why younger people are getting hospitalized is because those 65 and older have been eligible for the vaccine since mid-January. 

“We have two-thirds of that population vaccinated already and we’ve seen the benefits of that in the long-term care facilities where the incidents of disease have declined almost to zero compared to what we had before,” said state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz. 

Those ages 16-64 are only eligible for the vaccine if they have an underlying medical condition or qualify in an essential worker group that’s been prioritized. New Jersey so far has vaccinated more than 1.5 million people and launched a new online tool that will help users find available vaccine appointments. 

Governor Phil Murphy said new state models for moderate and worst case scenarios predict cases and hospitalizations will remain high through June. In the moderate scenario, the third wave will peak on April 18th—with 5,545 new positive tests and 2,669 hospitalizations. Cases will remain around 5,000 through April, dropping under 3,000 by mid-June. And hospitalizations won’t drop under 1,000 until August. 

In the worst-case scenario, the state will hit a high of 8,000 cases in mid-May, with cases remaining on those levels through mid-June and hospitalizations peaking around 3,500. 

The state did not meet its moderate or worse-case scenario projections during the first and second wave of the virus. 

“We crushed the wave twice, let’s do it a third time, hopefully the final time,” Murphy said Wednesday.