Health officials fear surge in COVID-19 infections could stress state’s health care systems

More than 2,000 New Jersey residents are hospitalized because of COVID-19, according to state officials.
Coronavirus hospitalizations peaked at just over 8,000 in April during the first wave of the pandemic, but officials say that it is unclear how much the second wave will stress New Jersey’s health care systems in the weeks ahead.
“On staffing, I’ve said repeatedly that may be our biggest problem, our biggest issue,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday, adding that the health care system is currently holding steady.
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Nov. 18, 2020 COVID-19 briefing
But government officials, health care workers and patients want to know if a second wave could be as bad as the first that peaked in mid-April.
“That’s what’s going to be the impact to our hospitals – the patients who come in with severe infections,” says registered nurse and New Jersey State Nurses Association CEO Judith Schmidt.
Schmidt says that it is hard to say if the second wave will be equal to the first wave.
“My gut is it’s not going to be worse, but we just have to be very aware that it could be just as bad as the first quarter of this year,” Schmidt says.
"The issue of hospitalizations and deaths, we have to remember that those are lagging indicators. We would not be surprised to see more hospitalizations, more deaths over time as we see cases rise over time,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan.
During the first wave of the pandemic, health care workers came across the nation to help the north east. But now with infections spiking around the country, there are no workers to spare.
"Our nurses, in addition to other health care providers, are going to have a significant amount of post-traumatic stress. Now we put on top of this a second surge of admissions into hospitals,” says Schmidt.
The health commissioner says that post-traumatic stress among health care works is very real.
“And it’s not only nurses. It's everyone that worked in the hospital during March and April are having some issues with the anxiety related to what they went through,” Persichilli said.
Counseling services have been made available for nurses, doctors and other health practitioners. But for a few, that's not enough.
“We know that there’s some nurses who just can’t do it anymore. So, they’ll either leave the profession entirely or they’ll try to find another position that may not involve hospital care or direct patient care,” Schmidt says.
Four hospitals in the state briefly went on divert status Wednesday night. Persichilli said that those hospitals stopped accepting new patients due to existing patient volume.