2020 ends with glimmers of hope — but, unfortunately, plenty of dark reality

Murphy: ‘It’s going to be better — the year 2021 unquestionably will be better — but it will not be on Day One or even the first days, weeks or months’

As of Wednesday morning, the state had given 62,901 people the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots. It’s a number that’s far lower than what state officials hope — but one they said matches the reality of supply and demand.

“The reality of the long wait is real,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “This is all about availability of the vaccine. We expected that the supply would not be enough to meet the demand right out of the chute. We expected this to happen.”

Don’t be confused. There is more good than bad right now. There is a vaccine —which many didn’t think would come until the middle of next year.

There is another round of personal stimulus checks — which some may get this week.

There is another round of Paycheck Protection Program money for small businesses. And there is an extension of unemployment benefits — with a $300 supplement — coming, as well. (And without a missed week of benefits.)

The new year, however, will not bring a new reality, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Murphy, speaking at his 144th and final COVID-19 briefing of the year Wednesday, spelled out the situation.

“In 10 months, this virus has caused a deep scar across countless families, entire communities and, indeed, our entire state,” he said. “The scale of infection and death in 2020 that it would bring is not anything any of us could have imagined at this time a year ago. We have fought this virus together, we have embraced new practices, we have battled through this pandemic, and we’re currently battling pandemic fatigue together.”

The numbers are improving. The rate of transmission has been under 1.0 for days. And Tuesday, more people were discharged from hospitals (437) than were admitted (428).

But we are nowhere close to beating COVID-19.

Murphy said the state is preparing to open more vaccination sites, but it’s hard to schedule appointments when the amount of vaccine doses the state gets not only is less than expected — it also is a volatile number that is not consistent and cannot be planned for.

“(The) supply from the federal government, frankly, has not been what they said originally,” Murphy said.

Then, there’s this: While the number of doses the state has received is lower than expected, the state only has been able to administer 57% of what it has received. And state officials feel that puts New Jersey ahead of the curve.

Where do we go in 2021?

There is hope that, when President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20, some of the inefficiencies and confusion will be sorted out — but everyone knows government is slow to move.

Just this week, Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson was drafted by the Biden administration to serve as chair of the National Pandemic Testing Board, a selection Murphy wholeheartedly endorsed.

There is hope that more vaccines are coming. Afterall, AstraZeneca’s vaccine was approved by the U.K. on Wednesday — but U.S. officials already are cautioning that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be available in the U.S. for months.

In other words, there is still a lot of hurry up and wait.

The new year brings renewed hope — as it always does. But it comes with a hefty dose of caution. And a need for more patience and more vigilance.

“We know that 2021 will bring better days, but we’re going to have to greet the New Year on the same war footing with which we’re ending 2020,” Murphy said. “I wish there was magic on Friday. It’s going to be better — the year 2021 unquestionably will be better — but it will not be on Day One or even the first days, weeks or months.

“The new year brings with it hope and optimism from the vaccine program that is expanding every day. But, look at the numbers. All of them. We can’t consider ourselves done with this virus. Because this virus, unfortunately, is not done with us. Let’s keep fighting. And if we all do our jobs, we will make 2021 so much better than our 2020.”