Despite the COVID-19 Delta variant driving surges of the virus among thousands of New Jerseyans, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state has yet to reach a point at which it would justify reimposing an indoor mask mandate.
“We’re not there yet,” Murphy said during a regular COVID-19 press briefing on July 19. “We continue to be comfortable with where we are.”
Indoor mask mandates were lifted in New Jersey at the end of May, but the spread of the Delta variant has prompted Los Angeles County in California to reimpose a mask mandate for everyone regardless of vaccination status, while officials at Provincetown, a seaside tourist hub in Cape Cod, are urging facemasks.
Meanwhile, a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that all children at school wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status.
“I don’t want to go back, but if we think that’s the right public health thing to do, then that’s what the experts suggest,” Murphy said.
According to the state Health Department, the seven-day average for COVID-19 positive tests is 418, up 112% from a month ago.
Hospitalizations and fatalities from COVID-19 have spiked, and the positivity rate, and rate of transmission – or how fast the virus spreads – are hitting levels not seen since the spring. All of those upticks, Murphy said, are among those who have not gotten vaccinated.
As of July 19, more than 5.6 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey have gotten at least one shot of the COVID vaccine, but roughly 4 million people have not gotten the shot.
The Docket mobile app, which is being used by the state to allow users to prove they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine, has more than 36,370 users, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
Murphy has maintained that the app is nothing like the controversial “vaccine passport” proposals panned by Republicans, though New Jersey GOP leaders have nonetheless dismissed it as one.
“I cannot repeat it enough,” Murphy said. “We do not have a pandemic among the vaccinated. We only have a pandemic among the unvaccinated.”
There were 338 COVID-19 patients in New Jersey’s 71 hospitals as of July 18, of which 58 were in intensive care and 29 were on ventilators. But state health officials maintain that those three numbers are “lagging indicators”–meaning that it could be days or weeks before they reflect the current extent of the COVID-19 spread.
The positivity rate was 2.5%, while the rate of transmission was 1.37, meaning that for every person who gets COVID-19, it spreads to at least one other person.
“We are seeing positivity crest the 2% mark after being close to 1% for many days,” Murphy said. “Again, this is being fueled because of the rapid spread among the unvaccinated.”
With millions of New Jerseyans under 12 – who cannot get any COVID-19 vaccine – both Pfizer and Moderna are rushing for emergency approval to use the vaccine on children. Those as young as 12 can get the Pfizer vaccine.
According to Persichilli, cases per 100,000 have increased 29% from a month ago for those up to the age of 4, 15% for those between 5 and 10 years of age, and 36% for those between 11 and 13 years of age.
Nearly 91,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 – who make up less than 20% of the state population – have tested positive for COVID-19, And the 19 to 29 age group, Persichilli warned, make up the highest COVID-19 positivity rates.
But even with these increases, hospitalizations remain “somewhat flat and low” while intensive care patient levels are “under control,” Persichilli said.