Despite the release of statewide totals, county totals and some town-by-town breakdowns, it is still difficult to get a complete picture of exactly how many people in New Jersey currently have COVID-19.
(TNS) — For New Jerseyans who are trying to get a handle on how widespread the coronavirus outbreak has been in their hometowns, there is some good news and some bad news.
The good news: Some local and county health officials have been releasing daily updates on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in each town, along with details on the age and gender of each patient. That is far more detailed than the daily updates from the state, which only lists cases by county.
The bad news: Public officials in some towns and counties are keeping a tight lid on their coronavirus cases. And some of the most cooperative health departments at the start of the outbreak have become more restrictive in the release of their data during recent weeks.
Blame New Jersey’s adherence to home rule, which gives each municipality the power to make decisions for its residents. In essence, each town and each county with its own health department can set its own procedures and decide how much information it will release to the public.
Some health officials have cited medical privacy regulations when asked why little information is being released, while others say their offices are simply overwhelmed with cases.
The reasons also vary when it comes to why some government agencies in New Jersey have changed their policies on how much coronavirus information they will release to the public.
Atlantic County, for example, was originally one of the few counties that did not offer a breakdown of cases in each town.
Officials said they were worried advertising the county’s relatively low case numbers in certain towns would encourage second homeowners from areas of outbreak to bring a flood of people that would create risk of further spread and possibly put a strain on town resources. However, amid criticism over a lack of transparency, officials relented and began to offer town-by-town numbers.
Conversely, Burlington County originally offered full breakdowns of gender, age and town on a case-by-case basis but has lately offered only total case numbers and a town-by-town breakdown.
They say the reasoning for this change is both the increase in sheer number of cases, and to keep their communicable disease staff focused on contact tracing. The focus for officials is on location — instead of a breakdown of age and gender — because they say they ultimately want everyone to be safe.
In North Jersey, Sussex County has been one of the state’s most cooperative counties, providing case municipality, gender, age and fatality updates on a daily basis. Neighboring Warren County has provided the public with updates each day regarding new cases and patients who have recovered in each town. But the county has not released data regarding age, gender and fatalities.
Bergen County is the state’s most impacted county. It is the first to hit the five-digit mark in cases and it leads the way in fatalities. The health department there has provided case totals by town along with the overall death toll, but has been too overwhelmed to go into detail beyond that.
In Central New Jersey, where case numbers have been rising during recent days, Monmouth and Ocean counties have been sending out daily notices of positive coronavirus cases since early to mid-March. Each report gives a detailed breakdown by municipality, but no specific information about the number of cases.
Middlesex County, for a long time, released the number of new cases per municipality each day but has since taken up posting totals online. Certain towns, like Edison and South Plainfield, used to provide specific details on cases, like age and gender, but have stopped doing so in recent days.
Instead, Edison lists the age range of all cases each day. Monroe, Helmetta and Jamesburg have been more open, releasing ages and genders of infected residents each day.
Despite the release of statewide totals, county totals and some town-by-town breakdowns, it is still difficult to get a complete picture of exactly how many people in New Jersey currently have COVID-19. That is because the state is testing only residents who are showing symptoms, and test results have been backed up for up days.
In addition, the state is not reporting significant increases in daily testing, so it is unclear exactly how quickly the virus is spreading.
With that in mind, our staff has put together a series of maps that provide at least a snapshot of how the coronavirus has been affecting each of New Jersey’s 21 counties, and which towns have been hardest hit.
The stats can be found in the three links below, broken up by region:
©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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