The nexus of COVID-19 outbreaks has shifted to North Jersey from Monmouth University and the ultra-Orthodox, Jewish-majority Lakewood Township in Central Jersey, returning to the virus’s original ground zero from when it slammed into New Jersey in March and April.
Data from the New Jersey Department of Health on Thursday show that the highest counts of COVID-19 positive cases were from North Jersey counties.
In total, the state logged 1,182 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday—the fifth day in a row of more than 1,000 new cases as New Jersey feels the onset of a second wave of the virus, driven by indoor gatherings as colder weather forces people inside.
Essex County logged 196 new cases, followed by Union with 119 new cases and Hudson with 110 new cases.
Towns with a major university presence – such as West Long Branch, which houses Monmouth University, and New Brunswick, the home of one of Rutgers University’s campuses – were among initial hotspots this fall. Lakewood Township in Ocean County was also a nexus of COVID-19 cases following the Jewish High Holy Days in late September.
“Those are now meaningfully lower than they were a week or so ago,” Murphy said at a Thursday afternoon press briefing, held remotely as he and First Lady Tammy Murphy self-quarantine following exposure to a senior staff member who tested positive for COVID-19.
Ocean County logged 66 cases on Thursday, there were 81 out of Monmouth County and 88 out of Middlesex County.
“If there’s lessons to be learned, it’s the plussing [sic] up of contact tracing and testing capacity into hotspots,” like what had been done in those communities, Murphy said.
New Jersey meanwhile logged its highest COVID-19 hospital counts since the spring, with 844 total hospitalizations reported on Wednesday and 852 on Thursday.
Of Thursday’s total hospitalizations, 439 were in the eight counties that the state health department grouped into what it calls the North Jersey region, while 203 were in the six counties making up Central Jersey, which includes Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The remaining 210 hospitalizations were reported in the seven counties that make up South Jersey.
Murphy has effectively paused reopening plans – such as a relaxation of capacity restrictions on indoor dining. And, he has entertained restricting public gatherings. But, he’s maintained that newly imposed statewide restrictions would be highly unlikely.
Instead, the governor and state health officials have pointed toward a “scalpel”-like approach for specific parts of the state where the virus is surging.
But Murphy acknowledged Thursday that cold weather could be particularly problematic for New Jersey come the winter, especially if the virus has not been contained enough that restrictions could be further loosened.
“This is a concern we’re trying to war-game, what it’ll look like in January and February, where this is headed, especially if we don’t break the back of it now,” he said on Thursday. “Weather in New Jersey in the 20s and 30s is a big issue, a big challenge for us.”
New Jersey’s numbers qualify the state for its own travel restrictions, as do those of neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania, and nearby Connecticut. These states have pledged not to levy the travel restrictions against each other, as did New York, with state Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying such measures would not be practical.o