Public health officials predict that New Jersey hospitals could reach a peak of about 8,700 on a single day sometime in the next two months under worst-case scenarios that would exceed New Jersey's worst day during the peak of the pandemic in April.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday revealed the results from the competing models developed independently by the Department of Health and the Office of Innovation.

Because the models are based on data that changes every day, the predictions can also change every day – improving as more people wear face masks, avoid crowded gatherings and get tested.

The "moderate case" scenarios, based on the assumption that New Jersey residents would continue to adhere to the pandemic protocols of mask-wearing and distancing, shows hospitalizations peaking at 6,333 cases on Jan. 13 under the Department of Health model, and 5,752 cases on Jan. 31 under the Office of Innovation model. Murphy said that under either scenario, the state's hospitals would not be overwhelmed.

Department of Health models. (State of NJ)

Under their worst-case scenarios, however, the Department of Health model predicts more than 12,500 new cases on Jan. 14 along with 8,747 hospitalizations on Jan. 13 with 1,679 patients in intensive care. The Office of Innovation model predicts 9,932 new cases on Feb. 1 along with a peak of 8,689 hospitalizations on Feb. 5 with 1,632 of them in intensive care.

Office of Innovation models. (State of NJ)

If real-world results hew closer to the moderate-case predictions, Murphy said there would be no need to reinstate any prior restrictions. Still, that would require most people to have quieter, smaller end-of-year holidays.

"There is no way these can be normal holidays regardless of which ones you celebrate," he said during his regular news briefing.

Murphy also continued the notes of optimism that he has been expressing in recent weeks even as the number of new coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations has been ticking upward.

On Wednesday, the state reported 4,665 new cases confirmed through PCR test results and 3,533 hospitalizations. By the end of Tuesday, hospitals had discharged 397 patients, admitted another 446 and reported 59 deaths. Total confirmed deaths stand at 15,674.

While hospitalizations continue to climb, deaths have not shot up dramatically the way they did in early spring.

New Jersey hit the peak of the first wave on April 14, when 8,270 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital – 2,051 of them in intensive care and 1,872 of them on ventilators.

On Wednesday, the state's hospitals had 630 COVID-19 patients in intensive care and 412 of them on ventilators — numbers that have been increasing in recent weeks but at a much smaller pace than earlier in the year.

Public health officials expect more improvement as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out in the months ahead but they also caution that even a vaccine won't make much of a difference if the virus spirals out of control in the meantime.

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