New Jersey now has three vaccines in its toolbox, with the first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered in New Jersey March 5. It feels like the momentum is moving forward toward getting back to what our normal lives were.
Ravaged last Spring, long-term care facilities show where the vaccine can lead us to. The number of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey nursing homes plunged by 90% and deaths dropped by 50% since the vaccination campaign began two months ago. In New Jersey, cases have plummeted from 13.7 positive cases per 1,000 residents in late December, when the vaccination campaign began, to 1.5 per 1,000 by late February.
Putting those numbers in context, the data comes during the time new coronavirus cases were reaching new high in the Garden State in the teeth of the pandemic’s Winter wave.
Last week’s plan expanding those eligible for the vaccine—getting teachers eligible on March 15, expanding the list of those with underlying health conditions immediately, greatly expanding different workers by the end of this month, earmarking the one-jab dose to hard to reach communities—shows reopening the state is closer to reality. State officials believe they will be able to reach their goal of getting 70% of New Jerseyans vaccinated by Memorial Day Weekend.
That means more in-person instruction by the end of the year at our schools, capacity limitations lifted for small businesses and restaurants and all of us able to gather with family and friends.
But all of that will take time—during which we can not let our guard down.
We were heartened to see Gov. Phil Murphy said he was stunned by the recent responses of Texas and Mississippi to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, especially a mask mandate.
“I don’t know what these states are looking at,” said Murphy. ”No capacity restrictions and no masking, particularly indoors. I think I could get it if you were socially distanced, if the states in warmer climates lifted potentially outdoor masking, but to lift it completely indoors? It just takes my breath away.”
Now is not the time to spike the football in the fight to contain the coronavirus. We are nearing the end zone but there are still obstacles. The latest is the variants of the virus that the vaccine may or may not be useful against.
We have been pro-mask in the attempts to combat the spread of the virus during the pandemic. The moves by the governors of other states to roll back these protocols that have proven effective should not be the model for New Jersey and just creates a mixed message that is not needed when we are so close to getting a robust vaccination program that will enable our reopening.
In his reflection on a year living with the coronavirus, Murphy thanked all the residents that adhered to the health protocols that broke the back of the virus last Summer. We will need those protocols—social distancing, hand washing and yes, face masks—for several more months as we continue to reopen New Jersey.