N.J. Expanding Virus Testing With Cases on Brink of 100,000

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(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey reported quicker and more test results and a drop in ventilator use as it’s on the brink of exceeding 100,000 cases of the new coronavirus.

The state added 4,247 positive results, for a total of 99,989. There were 307 more deaths reported, for a cumulative 5,368. It’s taking some of 21 counties more than 30 days to double cases; last month, some doubled every three days.

Governor Phil Murphy said at a Thursday press briefing that test results now take five to seven days, rather than two weeks. The state has at least 86 testing sites, some using a rapid analysis developed by Rutgers, the state university. That could prevent “boomerang outbreaks,” the governor said.

“I am not in a position yet to begin reopening our state,” he said.

Murphy said it was very unlikely that typical celebrations, including parades, will occur during the long Memorial Day holiday on the last weekend in May. But he likely will announce on April 27 a reopening framework for workplaces, businesses and government services.

Ramping Up

Labs have conducted 180,000 Covid-19 tests, with 44% positivity, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. At the start of April, there had been fewer than 57,000.

Brian Strom, a medical doctor and chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, said the school has developed two FDA-approved coronavirus tests. One returns results in 40 minutes. Another, based on a saliva sample, delivers results in 24 hours and requires no swabs and little, if any, personal protective equipment, and is being used in some drive-through sites, Strom said at a Trenton news conference.

In the next week, testing will start on residents of state-run developmental centers and employees of RWJBarnabas Health hospitals, Strom said. Rutgers expects to run as many as 10,000 tests daily, with an initial focus on Newark, the state’s most populous city.

The biggest need right now, Strom said, was 20 to 30 technicians to process the results. “We don’t need the swabs -- we don’t need the viral media,” Strom said. “The equipment is gettable.”

As the infection rate recedes in New Jersey’s northern region, health officials have warned that the peak is approaching in the center and south.

The last of the state’s three Federal Emergency Management Agency field hospitals opened Tuesday in Atlantic City. Although their 750 combined beds are mostly empty, Murphy said they may be pressed into service if a resurgence strikes, as scientists have warned. The state this week received 500 ventilators that it had bought on its own, which should cut its dependence on a federal stockpile.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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