No shaking it: Atlantic’s Gragnolati says system is seeing long-haul COVID cases

System is treating 300-400 people who didn’t get dramatically sick from COVID — but are struggling to get better

Brian Gragnolati. (File photo)

Brian Gragnolati acknowledges that we are in a vaccine race against the variants of COVID-19. We’re also in a race against warmer weather — which could bring groups of unvaccinated people together.

But, when you talk about the challenges of batting COVID-19 going forward, Gragnolati — the CEO of Atlantic Health System — said people are overlooking the long-haul implications of the virus.

It’s something he hears about every day.

Atlantic Health opened what it’s calling a COVID Recovery Center. It’s essentially an outpatient program for those who can’t shake the virus, Gragnolati said.

“These are people who may not have gotten that sick initially, but can’t seem to shake this virus,” he said.

And there are plenty of them — even with the implementation of the vaccine and treatments and therapeutics that have made it easier to battle COVID-19.

“We have 300 to 400 patients who are in that clinic right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t want people to think that, even though we’ve gotten better treating this, you can shake it off easily.”

COVID-19, Gragnolati said, is still serious — and still deadly.

“We’ve got a lot more knowledge about how this virus responds, and we have things that seem to work at different stages, but there are still people who get really sick,” he said. “And when they get really sick, they get really sick.”

Gragnolati said this is the reason he hopes New Jersey reopens cautiously — even if other states are opening quickly.

“One of the things that the state of New Jersey has done really well throughout the pandemic is following the science,” he said. “I think if you listen to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and you listen to Dr. (Rochelle) Walensky at the CDC, they’re telling us to proceed cautiously, so that we don’t go backwards.

“I’d love to see us open things completely, but that has to be driven by making sure that we’ve got an adequate number of people vaccinated and, at the same time, people are still wearing masks and using social distancing.”

The biggest issue is just vaccine availability.

Gragnolati, like others, said he hears much bigger shipments are coming, perhaps as soon as the end of the month. He said Atlantic, which operates the state site in Rockaway and dozens of others, is ready.

“We can do 10,000 vaccinations a day throughout the system,” he said. “Over the weekend, we were doing about 4,000. So, we’ve got the capacity, we built it, we just need to supply.”