With 29 presumed positive cases of novel coronavirus in New Jersey so far, a number of mitigation efforts have been announced by state officials in effort to "flatten the curve" so that hospitals aren't overwhelmed all at once.

All long-term care facilities and some psychiatric hospitals are restricting visitors and activities, state residents are being urged to avoid large crowds, and Gov. Phil Murphy is recommending all public gatherings over 250 people be cancelled until further notice.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said this strategy will not completely stop the novel coronavirus from spreading but it will hopefully slow it down.

While many New Jerseyans who get infected with COVID-19, probably 80 to 85%, will have only mild to moderate symptoms and will not require hospitalization, the elderly, those who are frail or have compromised immune systems made need supportive care in a hospital setting.

“They will require specialized rooms, they require personalized protective equipment on the caregivers, they require an intensive level of care in our hospitals," she said.

And that will require space and manpower.

“So the importance of flattening that curve is to hopefully decrease the amount of people being exposed at all or having major symptoms and overly stressing our hospitals.”

She pointed out this is critically important.

“Most of our hospitals are working at capacity, their staff beds are pretty full,” said Persichilli. “So they’re working at how they would handle a surge, particularly in their isolation rooms and their intensive care units.”

New Jersey's hospitals have a capacity for 700 patients in isolation rooms.

Lisa McHugh, the program coordinator of infectious disease epidemiology at the state Department of Health, said with social distancing and other mitigation activities, “you try to bring the peak down, have it come out over several weeks rather than having it over a shorter two or three week time frame.”

McHugh said that means hospitals will have time to recover “and prevent some of that surging that we’re already seeing.”

Persichilli acknowledged more coronavirus cases are expected in New Jersey but she said the goal is to try and make sure there won’t be a sharp spike in the number of patients needing to be hospitalized.

“It’s best if we flatten that curve [and] hopefully decrease the spread and have fewer people exposed," she said.

Persichilli said if there is a rapid uptick in the number of new coronavirus cases in the coming days or weeks, more stringent directives to limit recommended activities in public areas may be forthcoming.

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