After weeks of daily charts and updates on new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations — both crucial figures in New Jersey safely emerging from this crisis — Gov. Phil Murphy this week brought up another number that will be equally important in the state’s reopening: the virus’ reproduction rate.
Murphy said Tuesday that the virus’ “rate of spread is less than one-to-one," meaning that each newly infected person is spreading the virus, on average, to fewer than one other person. That’s a substantial improvement from March, when Murphy said that for every person with the virus, five more people were infected.
The two-and-a-half months and counting of quarantine, social distancing and economic shutdown have all proved effective in bringing down this reproductive rate, according to state officials and outside epidemiologists. But now it’s the reproductive rate, along with other key figures, that will determine when the state can end the shutdown.
“When I issued my stay at home order on March 21, COVID-19 was at a nearly unstoppable pace of spread,” Murphy said on Tuesday. Each infected person, whether they were symptomatic or asymptomatic, was spreading COVID-19 to an average of more than five other New Jerseyans.
“And by the time when our hospitals were at their peak stress, we had cut the rate of spread to roughly one-to-one. And today, thank God, that rate of spread is less than one-to-one, and we need to keep it that way.”
If the coronavirus reproduction rate stays below one-to-one, the number of cases will continue to shrink and eventually peter out. Once the reproduction rate climbs above one, the virus is growing again and could again become an epidemic.