Brian Gragnolati has good reason to be happy.
Atlantic Health System has just 12 COVID-19 patients in all of its facilities. Some hospitals, in fact, do not have any. That’s a far cry from the beginning of the pandemic.
“We had almost 900 a few months ago,” he said.
But Gragnolati, the CEO of Atlantic, said he has reason to be concerned, too. We’re not out of this yet, he said.
Modeling that Atlantic Health is doing is showing that COVID-19 can come back. And in a big way. Atlantic, in fact, is preparing for a second wave.
In October. In November. In December. It’s an open window right now.
“It’s good that our teams are getting a bit of a breather from this,” he said. “It’s helping us get ready for what may be in front of us.”
There is good news. A second surge is not a certainty.
“This is going to be on the citizens of New Jersey,” he told ROI-NJ. “Do you respect the fact that this is a very contagious virus? To some people, it is life altering, literally. And we have to take it seriously.
“I’m hoping that all of the modeling we’re seeing is wrong, and that we continue to do the right thing as citizens in New Jersey and that, actually, those efforts even keep the flu transmission down so that we will go through a winter that is more manageable as we continue to quest to get better testing, to get a vaccine and to get more effective antivirals.”
Gragnolati and Atlantic have been a step ahead of most during the pandemic. Their modeling in the spring — when they said COVID-19 cases would peak — was within a day of the actual date.
Gragnolati was supported of Gov. Phil Murphy’s early lockdown — and supportive of the governor’s slow reopening. He has seen the state and its residents do so many things right. He fears some will now do things wrong.
“This is something that we as citizens in New Jersey can control,” he said. “The governor’s obviously doing his part and dealing with the titration of reopening things or not. We have to do our part.
“We can wear a mask, we can wash our hands, we can listen to the rules about social distancing. I think if we do all that stuff that we will thread the needle here in New Jersey. When we don’t do that stuff, you’re going to see transmission.”
The hardest part in all of this, Gragnolati said, is that these things need to be done by everyone.
“My belief is that we can do this right if we follow the science and people follow the rules,” he said. “Remember, a lot of rules are put in place because people don’t follow them. I call it the 5% factor — 5% of the people do the wrong thing and 100% of us enjoy the implications of that.”
New Jerseyans, he said, cannot relax after a summer of rule following, Gragnolati said. The rules are changing — like the seasons.
“The reality is, as the weather cools down, and outdoor dining and things like that are not as feasible anymore, those businesses are going to need to do something,” he said. “If I could just give a message to the citizens of New Jersey in a very simple way, it would be this: If we want those businesses to be successful, and we want them to be available for us, then we all need to just follow the rules.
“Wear a mask, wash your hands and practice appropriate social distancing. And don’t do dumb things.”
Like hold parties. Or attend large gatherings. Especially indoors.
“Those things are just setting us up for a problem,” he said. “It may not affect you, but it’s going to affect people who are more likely to be impacted. That will then trigger the problems with the health systems. And it will put us right back in the soup where things are shut down.”