TRENTON, NJ—Governor Phil Murphy announced a significant increase in the rate of transmission for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 here in New Jersey during his press briefing on July 31.
The rate of transmission represents the average number of individuals that each infected person passes the virus to. Rates above one indicate the virus’ spread increasing, while rates below one indicate the virus dying out.
New Jersey’s rate now stands at 1.35, the highest it has been since before the pandemic hit its peak.
“Given the recent data on cases, we anticipate, unfortunately, that it will go higher in the days ahead,” Murphy said, pleading with the public to take the virus threat seriously even as businesses re-open and gatherings occur.
“We are not past this,” said Murphy. “Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask, or who hosts an indoor house party, or who overstuffs a boat, is directly contributing to these increases.”
While the state has come a long way in its response to the crisis, the disease is still spreading here and continuing to severely impact other parts of the country.
Murphy took a moment of silence to reflect on the fact that July 31 marked the first day with no COVID-related deaths in the state’s 71 hospitals. It was the first such day since March 10, according to Murphy.
However, the administration added another 10 deaths to the state’s COVID death toll as the results came back from investigations into deaths in prior weeks and months.
With nearly 14,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey, there are still almost 2,000 more deaths listed as “probable.” There were nearly 700 new cases to report on July 31, a significant increase, according to Murphy,
On March 21, the date of Murphy’s “Stay at Home” order, the rate of transmission stood at 5.31.
But state data shows that rate plummeted to 1.02 over the next several weeks, as New Jerseyans drastically cut down on travel and gatherings.
For nearly all of May and June the rate stayed below 1.0, and for July, it mostly hovered around that 1.0 figure.
The numbers are somewhat of a lagging indicator, according to the state.
In the July 31 briefing, the latest rate of transmission data available was for July 29, and the Governor’s Office notes that the figure “is an estimate of virus reproduction rate 7-14 days prior, due to virus incubation period.”
Not only has Murphy’s administration been one of the nation’s least transparent when it comes to releasing data on COVID-19, but the state is also starting to see poor turnaround times on test results as the virus surges and spikes in other regions.
That high demand for tests elsewhere has led to laboratory delays across the country, making the data New Jersey uses less reliable.
One week earlier, Murphy told the press the rate of transmission was .84, but one reporter pointed out that the state’s COVID-19 “dashboard” showed a different number: .75
“Probably the one you looked at did not have the full download of the backed up cases. So it would definitely go up with more new cases being put in,” responded Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“So we’re… sticking with .84,” said Murphy. “I think that’s probably… exactly what happened, not knowing for sure, but we had I would bet several hundred cases that were loaded in under the .75 pre-data.”
In his July 31 media briefing, the 102nd such affair he presided over, Murphy also expressed concern over the state’s 2.15% “positivity rate,” the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive.
“These numbers are setting off alarms,” Murphy posted on social media. “The only way to silence these alarms is by taking this seriously. Wear a mask. Stop hosting house parties. Now.”
“I am not announcing any specific action today, but consider this as being put on-notice,” Murphy tweeted. “We will not tolerate these devil-may-care, nonchalant attitudes any more.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.