The buzzwords are back: mask up, vaccinate, stay home if you're sick.

Coronavirus concerns are ramping up again as New Jersey enters cold and flu season. Experts understand you're sick of worrying about COVID-19, but they say you still need to.

Severe illness and death will be a reality this fall and winter. Still, these aren't the dark pandemic days of 2020 and 2021.

"The good news is, we're in much better shape than just a few years ago," said Edward Lifshitz, medical director of the Communicable Disease Service at the New Jersey Department of Health. "The bad news is, the virus hasn't gone away, and it's not going to go away."

On Thursday, New Jersey reported 540 active hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Last fall and winter, the hospitalization count crept up until it hit more than 1,700 in early January 2023.

Barring any unusual mutation of the virus, which isn't out of the question, New Jersey is in a good position to fight the upcoming season, Lifshitz said. Immunity is much higher, due to vaccination and/or the fact that so many people have already had the virus.

Even more lives can be saved, Lifshitz said, if individuals — especially the elderly and immunocompromised — opt to receive the latest COVID booster, which is available now at pharmacies and medical offices throughout the Garden State.

Health experts say residents can receive both the latest COVID shot and seasonal flu vaccine during the same visit.

Since the start of 2023, New Jersey has recorded about 120,000 positive COVID cases. The count over the same time frame in 2022 was more than 810,000. But doctors say that the vaccinations people have received through 2022 are not a good match for the variants of COVID that are currently circulating.

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