COVID-19: First N.J. death, hospital officials hold daily briefings

Public Health. Amid the first coronavirus-related death in New Jersey, and as the number of presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, hospital officials from the northern portion of the state hold daily conference calls to share information and get on the same page.

| 10 Mar 2020 | 01:51

Amid New Jersey's first death, and as the number of presumptive positive cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in New Jersey continues to rise, hospital officials from the northern portion of the state teleconferenced Monday in an effort to share information and get on the same page.

Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on Monday and reported the state’s first death from COVID-19 Tuesday afternoon on Twitter.

“We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey,” Murphy said. “Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can — across all levels of government — to protect the people of New Jersey.”

The individual was a man in his 60s from Bergen County, according to the governor’s office.

Part of the “new normal,” hospital officials have been meeting remotely on similar calls daily as they attempt to get ahead of the spreading virus.

As of Monday afternoon, 45 COVID-19 tests had been completed at the state lab, with 14 in process, according to the state Department of Health. Ten of the completed tests were presumptive positive and were sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, NJ-5, who hosted the conference call among hospital officials, said the CDC is supposed to be putting 1 million COVID-19 test kits out into the field nationally, but that New Jersey hasn’t received any yet.

“Right now, there are several presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in New Jersey and we are all working in coordination to contain the outbreak and follow CDC guidelines,” Gottheimer said. “I've been working closely and in touch with the hospitals and the governor's office to address what resources our providers, counties and state need to contain the outbreak.”

Officials from Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, Valley Health System, Atlantic Health System, Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center and Holy Name Medical Center were on the call.

Mike Maron, president and CEO of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, said testing for COVID-19 is not an easy process.

“This is not like swabbing for the flu,” Maron said. “No matter how many labs can run the assay, gathering the samples is going to be an extremely tedious and difficult process and is going to limit the number of samples that we can gather no matter what.”

During the teleconference, hospital officials stressed the importance of staying home when sick, getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids, controlling fever with over the counter medications and self-isolating.

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, NJ-11, said the governor’s state of emergency declaration indicates the serious public health risk the novel coronavirus presents.

“It’s critical that we listen to medical and public health officials for the most accurate and up-to-date information,” Sherrill said. “I am working closely with the New Jersey delegation in Congress to ensure that our state is able to secure any additional resources needed. We have some of the best medical centers and life science professionals in the country, and I will continue to support their efforts in every way I can.”

The state health department opened a 24-hour hotline for the novel coronavirus and the public may ask questions by calling 1-800-222-1222.