Gov. Phil Murphy and state health officials are keeping a close eye on the new coronavirus variant but are stressing the one currently driving the most cases in New Jersey is still their top concern.
“We’re closely monitoring the Omicron variant—and we’re still not done with Delta,” said Gov. Murphy at a press briefing Nov. 29. “We encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and get your booster. It’s the best way to protect yourself.”
The governor believes that the variant discovered in South Africa would end up in New Jersey as most other variants of the coronavirus have since the first case was discovered on March 5, 2020. The variant has yet to be detected in the United States.
“The reality is that as our region is a hub of international travel and commerce, we must be ready now in anticipation of this variant hitting us,” said Murphy, who said that he would address the issue with White House officials in a phone call later that afternoon. “There is still very much unknown about this new variant.”
But the governor stressed that the new variant is not the enemy that must be confronted right now.
“Our numbers are still being fueled by the Delta variant,” said Murphy. “The importance of preventing further spread of Delta or we hope to prevent Omicron from gaining a foothold is paramount.”
Vaccines and Boosters
Murphy and his health officials drove home the best tools to accomplish that are already offered—being fully vaccinated, getting a booster shot and wearing a mask indoors when you are unsure of the vaccination status for those surrounding you.
“We are in a period of cases going up by Delta, as (news about Omicron) lands in our laps,” said the governor. “We continue to have in place strong recommendations of masks indoors…let’s triple underscore that recommendation.”
Preliminary information from South Africa shows anecdotally that there is less hospitalization with more milder symptoms but health officials warned they do not just know enough yet about this new variant.
In Washington, President Joe Biden was told by his COVID Response team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci that while it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant.
In addressing the nation before Murphy spoke, President Biden reassured Americans that the variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and that his administration was working with vaccine manufacturers to modify vaccines and booster shots should that prove necessary.
The President offered by the end of the week he would provide an outline for “a strategy for how we are going to fight COVID this Winter, not with shutdowns or with lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.”
Murphy said his administration is trying to find a balance when informing the public of the health concerns that Omicron could possess.
“We do not want to get hysterical. But are we taking this seriously, are we sober about it? Yes we are,” he said. “I worry more about downplaying the overpalaying because there is so many unknowns. We try to meet the moment with the right response.”
“There are a lot of questions but not a lot of answers yet,” the governor added.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,605,968 in-state, plus an additional 512,282 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,118,250 as of Nov. 29. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,956,001 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 220,474 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,176,475, including 113,982 of those aged 5-11 have received the vaccine.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 675,271 for Pfizer and 546,050 for Moderna. A total of 23,993 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,345,314 have received a booster or third shot. In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,506,703 doses (655,894 fully vaccinated), Essex 1,190,118 doses (519,790), Hudson 1,043,648 doses (466,838), Morris 822,237 doses (353,688), Passaic 716,968 doses (322,368), Sussex 193,625 doses (85,752), and Warren 127,318 doses (55,795).
As of Nov. 29, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,084,414 with 1,843 total new PCR cases. There were 498 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 165,040. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,249,454.
As for those that have passed, the state reported five confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,521. The state listed probable deaths at 2,827, bringing the overall total to 28,348. State officials noted nine deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Nov. 29, Bergen had a total of 137 new confirmed cases and 38 new probable cases, Essex 113 new cases and 21 new probable case, Hudson 92 new cases and four new probable cases, Morris 130 new confirmed cases and 35 new probable cases, Passaic 80 new cases and 15 new probable cases, Sussex 55 new cases and three new probable cases, and Warren 58 new cases and one new probable case.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,868, followed by Bergen at 2,708, Hudson with 2,181, Passaic at 1,827, Morris at 1,051, Sussex at 281, and Warren County at 234.
In regards to probable deaths reported Nov. 29, Bergen has 311, Essex has 310, Morris has 267, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 71 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,876,552 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Nov. 15, 54,260 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 1,160 COVID-related hospitalizations and 314 COVID-related deaths. All those are less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Nov. 8-14, breakthroughs accounted for 25.7% of all new cases (3,116 of 12,138), 0.4% of new hospilizations (16 of 602), and 1 of the 85 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Nov. 29, it declined to 1.18 from 1.20 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Nov. 25 was 9.2%; by region, the rate was 9.1% in the North, 9.9% in the Central region and 8.6% in the South.
The state reported 950 patients were hospitalized with all 71 of the state’s reporting, the first time above 900 since Oct. 6. By region, there were 355 in the North, 333 in the Central and 262 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 193 are in intensive care units and 99 on ventilators. A total of 88 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Nov. 24, the state has tracked 194 school outbreaks and 1,085 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 15 outbreaks and 59 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Passaic County has eight confirmed outbreak with 102 cases, Bergen County has 18 confirmed outbreak with 76 cases, Morris County has 11 confirmed outbreaks with 68 cases, Sussex has 15 confirmed outbreak with 59 cases, Essex County has eight confirmed outbreak with 34 cases and Hudson County has eight confirmed outbreaks with 28 cases. No outbreaks were reported in Warren County.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 123 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,219 of the cases, broken down between 644 residents and 575 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,852 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 34,193 residents and 23,395 staff, for a total of 57,588.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,694 on Nov. 29. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,019 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.