NJ covid cases, hospitalizations continue to rise – NorthJersey.com

COVID cases and hospitalizations are continuing to rise in New Jersey, with nearly every county now seeing high levels of transmission.
But severe outcomes — intensive care admissions, ventilator use and deaths — are still relatively low in a state that has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates, at 76%.
High case counts with fewer immediate bad outcomes is creating a level of uncertainty among many New Jerseyans as they go about their daily lives amid another pandemic uptick when almost all public health mandates have been lifted.
Health experts still say to exercise caution by washing hands, getting vaccinated and boosted, and wearing a mask indoors in a public setting, whether it’s a movie theater or an airplane. 
“As much as we want to get back to whatever it was pre-COVID, this is still working in the background,” said Dr. Jerry Zuckerman, vice president of infection prevention and control at Hackensack Meridian Health. “We constantly tell people to keep their guard up and flex according to what’s going on in the community. Is the disease up or down?”
It’s becoming hard to determine if it’s up or down at this point in the pandemic, more than two months after Gov. Phil Murphy ended the statewide public health emergency and called for a “more normal way of life.” 
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From the start of the pandemic, COVID has shifted its trajectory becoming almost impossible to forecast as it continues to mutate into new variants. Scientists are  wary about the effect multiple reinfections can have now that several subvariants of omicron have spread across the globe, including the BA.2 strain, which quickly became the dominant line in New Jersey. The worry is that a subvariant could evade immunity from vaccines or from a prior infection and sicken people.
“We’re just at the beginning of this surge, and the metrics are trending in the wrong direction,” said Stephanie Silvera, an infectious disease specialist at Montclair State University. “While we may not be seeing a rise in severe outcomes, we still need to be mindful of reinfections, of long COVID — things that may well have a lasting effect.” 
New Jersey is still nowhere near the position it was in at the height of the omicron surge in January, when tens of thousands of residents were testing positive each day, more than 6,000 were hospitalized and the daily death toll was 70 to 100 people. 
Cases have risen recently, with 3,590 reported Wednesday, but that is still just 10% of the high in January. The daily death toll has been mostly in the single digits since mid-March, even as the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 1 million COVID deaths in the past few days.
COVID hospitalizations in New Jersey have been rising for the past month, and they surpassed 800 on Monday night for the first time since late February, when the omicron surge was in a sharp decline.
Still, the majority of those patients were admitted to a hospital for a medical reason other than COVID. Of the 777 hospitalized patients with COVID on Sunday night, only 237 were admitted because they had a principal diagnosis of the coronavirus, said Nancy Kearney, a Health Department spokeswoman. 
So just how bad is COVID-19 in New Jersey these days?
A Health Department report released Thursday shows that almost every corner of the state jumped from a “moderate” to a “high” level of transmission during the first week of May.
The sharp decline from the omicron surge coupled with the end of mandates and warmer weather has changed behavior.
Indoor mask-wearing has dropped significantly in recent months even in such places as Hudson County, which is often among the first places in New Jersey to get hit with a COVID surge due to its dense population and close proximity to New York City. On Tuesday morning, shoppers and staff without masks at the ShopRite in Hoboken far outnumbered those wearing them, whereas it was the opposite just a few months ago, when the weather was colder and COVID was waning.
“When you take mask mandates away, it’s almost impossible to put them back on,” Silvera said. “Politically to mandate it again is extremely challenging, especially when, and I know this sounds cynical, we have an important election coming up.”
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Earlier this month, the U.S. surpassed 1 million COVID deaths, in what President Joe Biden called an “irreplaceable loss.”
New Jersey contributed about 3.4% of the U.S. death toll even though its 9.2 million residents make up about 2.7% of the country’s population.
As of Tuesday, New Jersey had recorded 33,553 COVID deaths. That includes 30,495 confirmed deaths and 3,058 probable — people who died of COVID symptoms at the height of the pandemic but were never tested.
Murphy has been reluctant to reinstate any mandates, saying the state is “shifting to an endemic reality” in which the disease has to be managed as normal daily life continues. 
“Not a single community has been spared from this tragedy,” Murphy said last week . “It is a loss that will impact our state and our country for years to come.”
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey,  please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: fallon@northjersey.com 
Twitter: @newsfallon 


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