New Jersey health officials are skittish that a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks are encroaching upon the state, even after posting nearly half the number of new cases on Friday as the night before.
Data from the New Jersey Department of Health released on Oct. 9 show the state reported 881 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, compared to 1,301 the day before—the highest count since May.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at an unrelated press briefing Friday morning in Evesham.
Murphy called Thursday’s numbers “sobering,” and highlighted that most cases came out of Monmouth and Ocean counties. Many of them, especially, were from Lakewood Township, a fast-growing, ultra-Orthodox, Jewish-majority community in Ocean County.
“We are anticipating a second wave,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a Thursday press conference in Trenton. “If individuals do not adhere to social distancing, masking guidelines, washing your hands, or staying home if you’re sick, this wave has the potential to become a surge.”
In Lakewood, the majority of cases were reported in non-Hispanic, white men ages 19 to 49, Persichilli said.
And the outbreaks in Lakewood “may be related to gatherings with religious services and celebrations that occurred in late September,” such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, according to the health commissioner.
Outbreaks were also concentrated in Middlesex County, especially at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Many of them stemmed from off-campus college parties, as well as communal living college dormitories.
On Friday, Ocean County reported 119 new COVID-19 cases, followed by Middlesex County with 91, Essex County with 80, Monmouth County with 72, Camden County with 71 and Bergen County with 70.
The statewide transmission rate is 1.19 – meaning that the virus is spreading – and it has stayed above 1 for several weeks now. New Jersey’s hospitals were reporting 666 patients with COVID-19.
“If individual health care workers fall ill like in the prior surge, we will have a problem,” Persichilli said. “Staffing will be affected and unlike in March and April, when health care workers from other states came to New Jersey to help out, those workers are now fully engaged in fighting this virus in their own states.”
She added that New Jersey hospitals and the state health department have been stockpiling personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks. Her department has also been accumulating Remdesivir, she said.
Murphy has noted that his administration may pursue hyper-local restrictions in specific communities stricken by COVID-outbreaks, as opposed to statewide restrictions on public travel, gatherings and businesses like the state saw mostly in March and April. Restrictions would be done in coordination with local officials, according to the governor.
Those could entail limits on crowd sizes for indoor gatherings. Such events are typically attended by family and community-members and yield a greater risk of triggering an outbreak, according to Deborah Birx, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Murphy acknowledged that more congregations of people indoors are “unavoidable given the weather’s getting colder.”
“Being able to stay out and do things outside for as long as we can … is probably good advice,” he said on Friday.
Persichilli said that her department is working with local health officials in Lakewood to increase testing and contact tracing.