State Releases New Data: More than 1,500 COVID-19 Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on nursing homes and other assisted living residences, which account for close to 12% of confirmed cases of COVID-19
Credit: NJTV News
St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge was recently shut down by the state when it was overwhelmed by an outbreak of COVID-19.

Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities make up close to 12% of all of New Jersey’s confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 1,500 have died, according to data the New Jersey Department of Health released Friday.

The state posted data on the number of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities by county on its dashboard a day after the revelation that Andover Subacute and Rehab Center in Sussex County, a facility hit hard by the disease, had stored 17 bodies in a makeshift morgue.

Reporters have been asking for weeks for details on viral outbreaks in specific long-term facilities, but state officials have declined, citing privacy concerns. They discussed the situation at the Andover facility because it became public and now is being investigated by both state and federal officials, but otherwise disclosed data on facilities by county only.

In six counties, more than two of every 10 cases of COVID-19 are in long-term care facilities. Statewide, almost 9,100 of more than 78,000 individuals who have tested positive for the virus are in nursing homes, assisted living residences and similar centers. There are cases in 394 such facilities, roughly two-thirds of all. And 1,530 deaths related to the virus have been reported in long-term care facilities although state officials say not all of these have been laboratory-verified. As of April 17, the state had reported 3,840 deaths in total due to complications from COVID-19.

“We’ve seen extreme vulnerability of long-term care facilities in New Jersey and nationally with the pandemic,” said Judith Persichilli, the state’s health commissioner. “We continue to be vigilant and do everything in our power to assist these facilities.”

She said the state has provided long-term care homes with personal protective equipment and helped them find support personnel to replace nursing assistants who were ill or didn’t show up for work.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), whose district includes the Andover facility, said he has heard from 45 such places in the four counties he represents that say they “are in critical need of” such supplies as gowns, N95 face masks and disinfectant supplies, as well as staffing and other assistance due to outbreaks within their walls.

In addition to the team of federal examiners at the Andover center, Persichilli said state inspectors visited other sites Friday and will be working through the weekend “visiting selected facilities, based on the reporting of their statistics.”

More than 100 of the state’s close to 600 long-term care facilities reported they are no longer admitting individuals because they are unable to provide proper care, she added.

Controlling outbreaks of COVID-19 in facilities is crucial, Gottheimer said.

“We will not beat this virus and flatten the curve if COVID-19 is able to continue to spread like wildfire in these long-term care facilities,” he said. “Moreover, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are adequately protected from contracting the virus.”