As the novel coronavirus vaccine rollout continues, residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Garden State began getting vaccinated on Monday.

Gov. Phil Murphy, during his coronavirus update in Trenton, said through the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care program, 291 Jersey nursing homes have been scheduled to receive vaccinations for more than 83,000 residents and staff over the next six weeks.

“With each passing day, our vaccination program is growing a little larger and a lot stronger,” he said. “We are ready for this moment and we know countless residents, more importantly, are as well.”

More than 7,200 residents of long-term care facilities, and 125 staff members, have died of the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to the state's tracking. That's out of nearly 17,000 deaths in the state overall. As of Monday, the state was observing 480 outbreaks at long-term care facilities.

The elderly and those with pre-existing are generally considered the most vulnerable to complications from the novel coronavirus, and represent the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths. Murphy has been criticized by some lawmakers and some state health department personnel, speaking anonymously to media, for returning coronavirus patients to nursing homes while working to shore up hospital resources.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in addition to the vaccinations being given at long-term care facilities and hospitals, 134 community-based sites have received or will receive vaccines this week.

"With the new year we are looking forward to the opening of our 6 vaccination mega-sites, and the further expansion of our vaccine efforts, and the continued movement through each priority group," Murphy said.

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He said the mega-sites — distribution centers that will provide vaccinations to eligible populations in several waves, as eligibility expands over the next weeks and months — should be up and running by early- to mid-January. First up is the "1A" group of healthcare workers, and long-term care residents and staff.

The governor said as other segments of the population become eligible — in the "1B" category of essential workers and "1C" category of adults over 65 or with pre-existing medical conditions — there will be further guidance and announcements about what people should do to get vaccinated.

Murphy and Persichilli  addressed a concern about hospital trustee members reportedly receiving vaccinations — saying while they're connected to a healthcare operation, the 1A category is only for those directly administering healthcare. It applies whether the healthcare workers are paid or unpaid.

Murphy also said he and other top members of his administration have not received the vaccine yet because “there’s an enormous supply, demand imbalance right now.”

He said he recognizes there is some benefit to public figures getting the vaccine, to encourage others to do so, but with vaccine in relatively short supply right now, he and other top New Jersey leaders will wait.

“When there’s frontline healthcare, long term-care residents and essential workers waiting I just can’t justify it,” Murphy said.

The governor also noted during his update an additional 2,745 Garden State residents have tested positive for the virus over the last day. Another 3,684 COVID patients are hospitalized, and 715 of them are in the ICU.

Last Wednesday New Jersey clocked 4,919 new positive cases, with 3,841 hospitalizations and 765 patients in intensive care, but Murphy said it’s too soon to read into the smaller case number.

“We also don’t know where these numbers may go as we are just now coming out of Christmas, and then we will have New Year's Eve standing on deck,” he said.

He added hopefully New Jerseyans are “taking to heart the need for doing things differently and much smaller this year, and we won’t see a post-holiday spike.”

A recent analysis by found hospitalizations over the last month were only a fraction of those projected by the state, though case numbers were almost exactly as predicted. Murphy has said he believes many residents kept their Thanksgiving celebrations small, and has credited them for holding back figures that nonetheless have grown over the last several weeks.

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