A much-feared post-holiday COVID-19 spike has hit the state, but whether it will have a devastating or far more muted effect remains to be seen.
As of Jan. 11, state health data indicated that the rate of transmission, or how quickly the virus spreads, climbed above 1 for the first time in weeks, hitting 1.09.
That means that for every one person who gets COVID-19, they spread it to at least one other person.
“We had anticipated an increase in positive tests coming out of the holidays, and it is safe to say that we are now experiencing that increase,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a Jan. 11 COVID-19 press conference, almost two weeks after the holiday season, the typical incubation of COVID-19 before symptoms begin to emerge.
“This is likely from indoor gatherings where neither social distancing nor wearing a facemask were adhered to.”
State health data suggested that the increase in new cases, including two all-time record-high days in new cases last week, are attributable to the slew of indoor holiday gatherings.
“This is what we were afraid of – people letting their guard down over Christmas and New Years and spreading this virus among their families and friends,” Murphy added. “And, for the next upcoming days, we’re probably going to be seeing the impacts of this.”
Hospitalizations and fatalities typically lag behind daily new cases, meaning there might be several days before those numbers reflect a post-holiday surge.
Monumentally higher testing capacity than what the state had in the spring means that more cases are inevitably being detected.
But months-long record-highs in daily fatalities, as well as total COVID-19 hospitalizations, and patients on ventilators or in critical care, have all moved in an alarming direction.
On Jan. 11, the state reported 5,042 positive COVID-19 tests, out of the nearly 600,000 administered in the state since the start of the pandemic. The positivity rate was 11.32%, having been above 10% since Dec. 22.
There were 3,402 total COVID-19 hospitalizations, of which 649 patients were in critical care and 438 were on ventilators. The state reported 51 COVID-19 fatalities on Monday.
Health officials warned that the state could see between 12,595 and 9,932 new daily cases between mid-January and Feb. 1. And there could be roughly 8,700 total COVID-19 patients between mid-January and the start of February, according to these models.
Many of those metrics have instead plateaued in the latter half of December, something which State Epidemiologist Christina Tan acknowledged on Jan. 11.
But she pointed to a “small peak” in the weeks following Thanksgiving, and that “we saw a little bit of a bump the week after Christmas.”
Murphy noted that the lack of any holiday gatherings for the remainder of the winter when the worst of the second wave is expected to be in full force, save for Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, mean all the fewer opportunities for similar private indoor gatherings.
State health officials have administered over 214,000 Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 doses and began providing them to police and firefighters on Jan. 7, on top of health care workers and long-term care residents and staff.
Over 1 million people who live or work in New Jersey have pre-registered via a state-run online portal to get a COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months.