The news came the same day drugmaker Pfizer announced that a third dose booster shot can “neutralize” the omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa and has been spreading rapidly. New Jersey recorded its first case of the variant on Dec. 3, according to state health officials.
“That is encouraging, but in the meantime, our lived reality is that the delta variant remains – overwhelmingly and near exclusively – the variant of concern,” Murphy said during a remotely held COVID-19 briefing.
Omicron, Murphy warned, is almost certainly going to spread. “We’ve got at least a handful of [potential cases] that are pending, that are being sequenced or pending sequencing,” the governor said.
More 6.26 million people who live, work or study in the state, out of 9.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated, while more than 1.5 million have gotten a third dose or booster. The Pfizer shot can be given to children as young as five years of age.
“We do know its transmissibility, we do know its virulence, and we do know that the vaccines are highly effective against it,” Murphy added.
The plan will be to open “several more mega-sites” to get Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer boosters, Murphy said. So far, only the vaccine mega-sites in Burlington and Gloucester counties remain open, out of the six that had been operating across the state.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said there will be a third vaccine mega-site opening in Somerset County, but did not elaborate on the timeline.
Hospitalizations and positive cases have all increased in the weeks following Thanksgiving, which Persichilli said is a direct result of indoor gatherings and travel, with colder weather forcing people indoors.
With the Christmas and New Year holidays approaching, public health officials are concerned that case counts will continue to rise.
On Dec. 7, the state logged 1,490 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations across all 71 acute-care hospitals – the ninth day in a row with more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients and the highest such levels since early May.
Persichilli said that as many as 80% of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. As of Dec. 6, the state recorded a seven-day average of 3,751 daily cases, according to the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, the state showed a seven-day average of 943 cases on Oct. 25, a nearly 298% increase.
The statewide positivity rate as of Dec. 3 was 7.88%, while the statewide rate of transmission as of was 1.31, up from 1.2. Anything above 1 means that the virus is spreading. All 21 counties have a “high” rate of transmission, the CDC said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]