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COVID-19 vaccine
COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at a Nov. 20 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey could receive its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine as early as mid-December, Gov. Phil Murphy says.

On Nov. 20, Pfizer applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its two-dose vaccine.

Murphy said Friday, Nov. 20, that, if the FDA approval is given, the state could receive its first shipment of 130,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in mid-December, hopefully followed by a first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine in late December.

Health officials have a goal to have at least 70 percent of New Jersey’s adult population vaccinated over the next six months, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Friday, Nov. 20. Priority for the first doses will be given to health-care workers who are in regular contact with COVID-19 patients and are therefore at high risk. Other priority populations include essential workers, people living in long-term-care or other communal living facilities, and other populations deemed to be at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Those populations will receive the vaccine before it is made available to the general public, most likely in April or May. 

“All of this is to say that we are in a far, far different place than we were at the start of this pandemic,” Murphy said. 

Health officials announced 3,635 new cases on Nov. 20, down from 4,320 on Nov. 19, bringing the state total to 297,370. The positivity rate stands at 7.98 percent, which Murphy said was a slight improvement from previous numbers, including 10.88 percent, and the rate of transmission stands at 1.40, compared to 1.43 reported on Nov. 18. 

Hospitals reported 2,505 total patients on the evening of Nov. 19, compared to 2,471 on Nov. 18. Hospitals also reported 452 critical-care patients and 233 ventilators in use, compared to 456 critical-care patients and 216 on ventilators on Nov. 18. Murphy said the increase in ventilator use was a “meaningful” one. 

Officials on Nov. 20 reported 23 new deaths, compared to 34 deaths on Nov. 19, bringing the statewide total to 14,900, and 1,812 deaths probably due to COVID-19. Another 27 deaths were reported in hospitals, but have not yet been confirmed as due to COVID-19. 

Essex County reported 339 new cases on Nov. 20, down from 385 on Nov. 19, bringing the total to 31,867 cases. Four deaths were reported, the same number as reported on Nov. 19, bringing the total to 1,966 deaths.

Montclair reported 20 new cases on Nov. 19, bringing the township total to 894. The number of deaths remains at 57. 

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines have both been shown to have a 90-percent or better success rate at preventing COVID-19 infection. Because Pfizer’s vaccine requires refrigeration at extremely cold temperatures, that vaccine will be shipped to the 40 New Jersey hospitals that have the facilities to store it, Persichilli said, while the Moderna vaccine can be made available to all New Jersey hospitals. 

The first 130,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine could arrive by the last week of December, and two subsequent shipments of 100,000 doses each could arrive shortly after that, Persichilli said. However, as New Jersey waits for the vaccines to arrive, the state needs to double down on preventive measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, she said. 

Murphy added: “We’re in a vortex of cold weather, it’s getting darker, and we’ve got one holiday after another on the table.” 

“This is it. This is crunch time. This is the locker room, and the next six to eight weeks are the Super Bowl.”

Call for in-person learning

On Nov. 19, Murphy joined six other governors from Northeast states in encouraging schools to reopen for in-person learning. The governors – from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as New Jersey – said the metrics indicated that schools were safe environments, with low transmission rates, and cited the benefits of in-person learning for students. 

The New Jersey Education Association criticized the announcement, questioning the data and saying it didn’t take into account extracurricular activities like sports, which have been linked to the spread of cases. 

“We are dismayed that Gov. Murphy and the governors of the other states have downplayed the danger posed to students and school staff participating in in-person instruction during the current COVID-19 surge in our region” read a statement released by NJEA leadership, including President Marie Blistan and Vice President (and Montclair Mayor) Sean Spiller. 

To that, Murphy said his administration was on regular calls with the NJEA, and he applauded educators, students, parents and administrators for the work they have been doing during the pandemic. He acknowledged that extracurriculars and out-of-school behavior were a matter of concern, and that officials needed to watch them “like a hawk.” 

The Montclair schools decided on Nov. 11 that they would not reopen on Nov. 16 as planned. The district said it would revisit the matter on Dec. 1. The announcement was met with approval by some parents, but anger by others. 

Testing

Montclair will offer COVID-19 testing at the Wally Choice Community Center in Glenfield Park from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 23, 24, and 30; and Dec. 1, 7, and 8.

Essex County will offer testing at the following locations:

  • Saturday, Nov. 21, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, Archery Field, Cherry Lane, West Orange
  • Monday, Nov. 23, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Essex County Branch Brook Park, Cherry Blossom Welcome Center, between Heller Parkway and Mill Street entrances, Newark
  • Tuesday, Nov. 24, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Essex County Airport, 73 Passaic Ave., Fairfield
  • Wednesday, Nov. 25, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Verona Community Pool, 257 Fairview Ave., Verona
  • Friday, Nov. 27, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Essex County Weequahic Park, Meeker Avenue entrance, Newark
  • Saturday, Nov. 28, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex, Archery Field, Cherry Lane, West Orange