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COVID-19 deaths
COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at a Dec. 23 press briefing. It was announced that day that New Jersey had seen 100 deaths on a given day for the first time since June 13.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Daily deaths due to COVID-19 have topped over 100 in New Jersey for the first time since mid-June. 

On Dec. 23, officials reported 103 new deaths, down by one from 104 on Dec. 22.

It is the first time since June 13 that there have been more than 100 deaths reported on a given day, Gov. Phil Murphy said, and the first time since the end of May that there were two or more consecutive days with more than 100 deaths. 

New Jersey has now recorded 16,521 total deaths, and the number of probable deaths now stands at 1,945. Last night, hospitals have also reported an additional 62 deaths that have not yet been confirmed as COVID. 

Health officials also reported 4,919 new cases, compared to 4,686 on Dec. 22, bringing the total to 445,138. 

The rate of transmission has dropped from 0.99 on Dec. 21 to 0.97 on Dec. 23. But the positivity rate has risen from 10.78 percent on Dec. 21 to 12.97 percent on Dec. 23. 

The deaths and case numbers are of concern with two days to go before the Christmas holiday. 

Hospitals reported 3,841 patients, including 765 intensive care patients and 486 ventilators in use. The intensive care numbers are the highest since May 26, and ventilator is the highest since May 29. By comparison, on Dec. 21, hospitals reported 3,736 patients, 740 intensive care patients, and 492 ventilators in use. 

“A week ago, our hospital numbers were dropping. Now they’re higher than they were several months ago,” Murphy said. 

Ed Lifshitz, the director of the Department of Health’s communicable disease services, said that while hospital cases are going up, they are going up at a slower rate than in the spring. “We took an elevator ride to the top,” he said of the spring surge. “Instead of taking an elevator ride up, we’re taking the stairs up.”

Next week, vaccine clinics at New Jersey’s long-term care facilities are expected to begin. The clinics are a partnership between the CDC, CVS and Walgreens. Additionally, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced that the Department of Health is partnering with Rite Aid to do vaccine clinics for home health care workers and hospice workers. 

Essex County health officials reported 351 new cases and 11 new deaths on Dec. 23, compared to 253 new cases and eight new deaths on Dec. 22. The totals now stand at 44,632 cases and 2,112 deaths. 

Montclair health officials reported 10 new cases on Dec. 22, bringing the total to 1,219. The number of deaths remains at 59. 

Christmas and New Year’s

State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said a rainstorm expected to arrive Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day may bring strong winds and power outages, and warmer temperatures and melting snow may lead to flooding in some areas. The storm could be followed by a plunge in temperatures, with the risk of black ice.

“And the locusts will be arriving on the 26th,” Murphy quipped. 

However, Murphy joked that Santa has been cleared to make deliveries in New Jersey, though families making visits to Santa are urged to wear masks and maintain social distancing. 

“We have it on the highest authority that Santa and the elves and reindeer are all clear,” Murphy said. 

And Callahan issued an administrative order declaring Santa’s journey as essential travel in New Jersey. 

Mental health

New Jersey’s Department of Human Services has launched mental health helplines for health care workers and first responders who are feeling stress and anxiety due to the pandemic.

The HEAL NJ Healthcare Workers COVID Hope & Healing Helpline is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with emergency support available 24/7 at 1-833-415-8773. Additional information is available at healhealthcareworkers.com.

The RISE: NJ First Responders COVID Hope & Healing Helpline is available for law enforcement, firefighters, EMS professionals and other first responders. It offers live support for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with emergency support available 24/7 at 1-833-237-4325. Additional information is available at risefirstresponders.com.  

For other residents, the NJ Mental Health Cares Helpline is available with live support from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 866-202-HELP. An American Sign Language video mental health helpline for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is also available at 973-870-0677. 

The new helplines are being launched in partnership with Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, and are funded by $1.7 million in FEMA funds. All of the counselors and specialists on the helplines have received crisis counseling training from FEMA.