TRENTON – State health officials have expanded the data they are reporting about COVID-19 in New Jersey schools, and they show nearly 23,000 cases among K-12 students and staff since September and over 2,400 on college campuses.

The numbers are described as surveillance data and remain incomplete. More than 40% of the K-12 schools in the state and almost 60% of colleges are not reporting data, but state officials say they had finally reached a level of reporting that made the public release of the numbers beneficial.

“For the purpose of trends and monitoring trends, we feel that this type of information is very valuable for schools, for parents, for administrators to get a sense of what is kind of the disease burden,” said Dr. Christina Tan, the state epidemiologist.

Until now, the state Department of Health's COVID dashbaord had been reporting the number of cases only if they were contracted in school-related outbreaks – a bit over 1,000.

Case rates are about four times greater in K-12 settings than in colleges.

About one out of every 500 students in K-12 settings got new cases of COVID in the week ending Nov. 17. The 2,128 new student cases brought the total to 18,747 since September. The 2,081 schools that are reporting data to the state have a combined enrollment of around 1 million students.

There have also been 4,095 cases among staff since September, including 479 last week.

“The highest case rates among students and staff were in Sussex, Gloucester and Monmouth counties and lowest in Essex County,” said Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

On college campuses, there have been 1,921 student cases reported, including 132 in the last week. There have been 483 cumulative staff cases, including 43 in the last week.

Persichilli said in both K-12 and college settings, cases peaked in early October and had been steadily decreasing before beginning to increase again in the second week of November.

The numbers are being provided at the county level, not the school district or college level.

The dashboard also includes data about how many kids are learning remotely, including students with COVID-19 who are isolating or unvaccinated students who need to quarantine because they were in close contact with someone who has the virus. That is currently 1.4% of K-12 students, statewide.

“Sussex County also had the highest percentage of students learning remotely for reasons attributed to COVID-19 exclusion,” Persichilli said, at 3.5%.

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Mercer and Salem counties also reported 3% or more of students excluded. Five counties were under 1%: Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex and Passaic.

The dashboard also now includes data about how many staffers are vaccinated: 85.2% of staff, with the rates highest in Somerset and Bergen counties and lowest in Ocean County.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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