“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,” the governor said Nov. 29 at this weekly COVID-19 briefing.
So far there have been no cases in the U.S of the new variant, which was first detected in South Africa over the Thanksgiving weekend, and has gained a foothold in Europe, Australia and East Asia.
The U.S. and several European nations have since enacted travel bans on all non-U.S. citizens from several southern African nations. President Joe Biden warned that while the restrictions would slow the spread of the new variant, its arrival likely cannot be prevented.
Much is still unknown about the omicron variant, including whether it is resistant to the current COVID-19 vaccines and if so, to what degree. Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, which have developed two of the three available vaccines, said they’ve already begun research on a potential omicron booster.
The World Health Organization ranked omicron’s threat to global public health as “very high” because of its transmissibility and risk of vaccine resistance.
“There is still very much unknown about this new variant,” Murphy said. “We are all closely following the research into this variant as it is released, and we are all watching closely as new cases are discovered and reported.”
Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli both said that the state’s current testing capacity will be able to identify the new variant.
Up until now, the delta variant, first detected in India, has been the dominant COVID-19 strain, fueling the greatest number of positive test results, mostly among those who remain unvaccinated.
“We do not yet know what the omicron variant means for us, but we are still not yet done with delta,” Murphy said, hence the need to get the initial COVID-19 vaccine doses and booster shots and to wear masks in crowded, indoor spaces.
With more people spending time indoors given the colder weather and the holidays, COVID-19 cases and total hospitalizations have increased recently. Murphy said the “we’re going to be in sort of this limbo period” during this wintery delta variant wave, coupled with the uncertainty of the threat posed by the omicron variant. Officials have expected the current surge to plateau some time in January.
In total, the state’s hospitals now have more than 900 COVId-19 patients for the first time since Oct. 11, according to the state Health Department.
Murphy noted that after Thanksgiving 2020, there were 2,908 COVID-19 total hospitalizations. He credited high vaccination rates with keeping that number down.
Nearly 6.2 million people in New Jersey have been vaccinated, and hundreds of thousands more have gotten either the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson boosters.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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