A day of reflection at HMH, where N.J.’s 1st COVID-19 case was confirmed a year ago

Moment of silence, blue spotlights to mark one-year anniversary of diagnosis at Hackensack University Medical Center

A moment of silence will be held in each of Hackensack Meridian Health’s 17 hospitals to recognize, honor and remember the physicians, nurses, clinical support teams and — most of all — the approximately 25,000 New Jerseyans who have died from COVID-19.

Each of the hospitals will be illuminated by a blue spotlight, too — a tribute that will last a month.

Thursday morning marks the one-year anniversary of when James Cai, 32, became the first person in New Jersey to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Cai developed symptoms of COVID-19 on March 1, went to an urgent care facility and was eventually admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center. (Here’s a feature on Cai’s experience.)

Honoring the heroes of health care

ROI-NJ celebrated frontline workers in our ROI Influencers: Health Care list last fall.

Meet Julia Kinsey, 80, who still hasn’t missed a day of work.

And meet health care’s unsung heroes (submitted by hospitals):

Since then, HMH has treated more than 23,000 patients, more than any other network in the state. And more than 133,000 people were tested for the virus in network hospitals.

HMH CEO Bob Garrett said the anniversary is a time for reflection.

“COVID-19 has upended our world and we have shown that we are Jersey strong and resilient,’’ he said. “We remember all those who fought valiantly against this disease and honor our frontline heroes and innovative spirit that are helping us beat this pandemic.’’

Garrett said HMH is proud to have contributed breakthroughs to help the nation work to defeating this pandemic, including:

  • Developing the first rapid commercial COVID-19 test, reducing the wait time for results from days to hours;
  • Developing a convalescent plasma treatment utilizing antibodies from people with high concentrations of antibodies — “superdonors’’ — to treat hospitalized patients;
  • Participating in national clinical trials to develop COVID-19 vaccines, including the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson trials;
  • Opening a COVID-19 Recovery Center, dedicated to assisting COVID-19 patients after recovering from the infection;
  • Launching a mega site at the former Meadowlands Racetrack in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Health, State Police and National Guard, which is vaccinating 4,000 patients daily.
  • Developing “Keeping America Safe: Hackensack Meridian Health’s Assist Program,” which helps business owners and schools create a safe environment.

Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive at HMH, said he feels the system has had a great impact in fighting the pandemic.

“We believe that innovations, including our COVID-19 PCR test and our high-titer convalescent plasma program, helped to make a positive difference,” he said.

“Given the uncertainty we face going forward, regarding vaccine durability along with any role virus variants might play, we must remain vigilant, monitoring local conditions and scientific findings, while providing equitable care and education for the people in the communities we serve.”

HMH began administering COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, starting with frontline team members. The network is delivering a total 5,000 to 6,000 vaccines daily at hospitals and other sites throughout New Jersey, including the mega site in Bergen County.