Frontline healthcare workers at Riverview Medical Center received cheers from the police, first aid and fire personnel in April. (Photo by  John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

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A nationwide rollout of America’s first COVID-19 vaccine is expected to begin Tuesday with inoculations of frontline healthcare workers.

Among them will be employees of Hackensack Meridian Health, the parent company of Red Bank’s Riverview Medical Center, according to chief executive Robert Garrett.

“I truly believe this is going to be the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic,” Garrett said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation‘ Sunday.

Red Bank’s COVID-19 cumulative case tally saw 15 added Sunday, for a total 842 since the start of the pandemic. (Monmouth County government data. Click to enlarge.)

The federal Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday night. Anticipating a shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, University Hospital in Newark plans to inoculate the first healthcare workers in New Jersey Tuesday morning at an event attended by Governor Phil Murphy.

The state is anticipating delivery of 76,000 doses of the vaccine in the first round. And while its arrival is “good news,” Murphy told ABC’s “This Week” that with  case numbers rising rapidly, “the next number of weeks are going to be hell, I fear, so we’re begging with people to please, please, please don’t let your guard down, even when you’re in private settings.”

Garrett said Hackensack Meridian’s shots would first be given to doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who interact directly with patients, as well as support staff, such as patient transporters.

“Based on the supply, we hopefully will be able to vaccinate all of them over the next three-to-four weeks,” he said.

Garrett said the 14-hospital network, the state’s largest, has had a dedicated team planning for the vaccine for months, acquiring ultra-cold freezers for storing the vaccine and working out a distribution plan for its hospitals.

He said the effort was being aided by volunteer physicians, retired nurses and medical and nursing students offering to help administer vaccinations.

Hackensack Meridian also owns the 180-bed former Chapin Hill longterm care facility on Chapin Avenue in Red Bank. Garrett said the CVS drugstore chain would begin vaccinating longterm care patients in those facilities next Monday, December 21.

The network had about 900 COVID-19 patients in its beds Sunday, compared to nearly 3,000 at the peak in April and a summer low of about 50, Garrett said.

Now, “we see our ICU capacity getting stretched,” he said.

“Our biggest challenge now is staffing,” Garrett said. “During the first surge, we were able to source staff from literally around the nation, but as you’ve been reporting, there’s a surge all over the country now, so it’s much  harder to supplement our regular staff with additional staff.”

Over the weekend, the state health department reported 728 new COVID-19 positive cases in Monmouth County, including 25 in Red Bank. Four additional deaths were reported countywide, for a total 825 since the start of the pandemic in March.

• In their daily update Wednesday, Monmouth County officials reported these cumulative cases by town:

December 11 December 12
Aberdeen 680 694
Allenhurst 37 37
Allentown 40 43
Asbury Park 631 649
Atlantic Highlands 108 110
Avon-by-the-Sea 63 64
Belmar 163 167
Bradley Beach 145 146
Brielle 184 187
Colts Neck 358 360
Deal 149 150
Eatontown 679 689
Englishtown 95 98
Fair Haven 152 154
Farmingdale 46 48
Freehold Borough 764 774
Freehold Twp 1418 1448
Hazlet 751 773
Highlands 124 126
Holmdel 621 627
Howell 1905 1958
Interlaken 41 41
Keansburg 399 412
Keyport 243 247
Lake Como 56 56
Little Silver 168 171
Loch Arbour 11 11
Long Branch 1628 1678
Manalapan 1360 1377
Manasquan 153 160
Marlboro 1364 1381
Matawan 482 485
Middletown 2210 2257
Millstone 278 283
Monmouth Beach 87 88
Neptune City 184 185
Neptune Twp 1229 1247
Ocean 1145 1181
Oceanport 217 219
Red Bank 817 827
Roosevelt 18 19
Rumson 210 213
Sea Bright 56 58
Sea Girt 78 81
Shrewsbury 206 211
Shrewsbury Twp 41 42
Spring Lake 81 83
Spring Lake Hts 137 140
Tinton Falls 604 622
Union Beach 168 171
Upper Freehold 230 234
Wall 959 972
West Long Branch 548 557

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