COVID cases creep up in central NJ, but this is no second wave, officials say
According to the latest novel coronavirus data compiled by the New Jersey Health Department, key metrics indicating the spread remain low.
The positivity rate for the Garden State is 1.81, and the rate of transmission is 1.12. Two new deaths have been reported since the end of last week, with 87 coronavirus hospital patients in the ICU and 32 on ventilators. That's all just a tiny fraction of what New Jersey experienced a few months ago.
But over the past week there has been a 22% overall increase in the number of positive coronavirus cases statewide, with 77 new positive cases reported in Ocean County, and 46 new positives in Monmouth County on Monday.
During Monday’s coronavirus update in Trenton, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the director of communicable disease services for the state Department of Health, said there is no indication a second wave is starting.
"A higher positivity rate would be one of the earlier things we’d expect to see," he said. "We’d look at number of new cases, we’d look at visits to emergency departments and so forth, and I do not yet see a second wave."
Lifshitz said he's always sensitive to " the feeling of that undertow that might be suggesting that a wave is coming."
"Certainly any increase in numbers catches our attention and rightly increases our response to that area, but right now I would not say it’s a wave," he said.
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli stressed officials don’t believe the uptick indicates the start of any kind of trend.
“We remain vigilant every day throughout the whole state looking at what we would call a second wave, but I don’t think we’re seeing anything specific," she said..
She said some social gatherings, particularly in Monmouth County, have been responsible for cases, but "I don’t think we’ve been able to identify any specific cause.”
The comments come two weeks after New Jersey allowed indoor dining for the first time since March, though at limited capacity, and just weeks after some students returned to part-time or full-time in-person education. Health officials say cases and deaths would lag behind any change in activity, but don't yet see signs of outbreaks tied to either change.
Persichilli said additional contact tracers have been deployed to Lakewood in Ocean County, but there has been a delay in responses, presumably because of the recent Jewish holidays.
Gov. Phil Murphy said there are indications a significant number of recent positive cases started at gatherings of teens and 20-somethings where there was no social distancing or mask-wearing, but clusters can also be caused by weddings, funerals and religious gatherings.
He also said “I don’t think we have evidence at this point that leads outbreaks back to any restaurant or gym or indoor entertainment or movie theater behavior.”
Murphy added to try and prevent outbreaks moving forward “we’re going to continue to test the heck out of the state, continue to enforce. I think this is an ebb and flow reality. I think we’re in as good a shape as any state in America."
New Jersey currently restricts most indoor gatherings to 25 people or 25 percent of a room's capacity, whichever is smaller. All attendees at indoor gatherings must wear face coverings and stay six feet apart.
Indoor gatherings for weddings, funerals, or memorial services are limited to 150 people or 25% of a room's capacity, whichever is lower. The same limit is in place for religious and political activities protected by the First Amendment.
Indoor gatherings for entertainment centers where performances are viewed or given, including movie theaters, performing arts centers, and other concert venues, must be limited to 150 people or 25% of a room's capacity, whichever is lower.
Most Outdoor gatherings can have up to 500 people, but social distancing is required.
There is no limit for outdoor gatherings for religious or political activities protected under the First Amendment.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com