TRENTON – New Jersey’s second COVID-era Thanksgiving will be more normal than the first – though probably not fully back to normal, if residents heed the cautionary notes from state officials.

Gov. Phil Murphy encouraged people to have fun but, if warranted, still be cautious.

He said it’s not a mandate but rather common sense: If you’re indoors in a crowded place and don’t know who you’re with, be careful and wear a mask.

“If you’re with, obviously, family, but if you’re with people that you have a high degree of confidence – you know them, you know their vaccine status – have at it. Raise hell and have a great Thanksgiving,” said Murphy, who heads out of state for the holiday Tuesday morning and will return Friday.

COVID case rates are climbing, though there are developments to be thankful for – vaccines, boosters, treatments such as monoclonal antibodies. It has state officials sounding less dire than they were approaching last winter.

Still, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said she is concerned about gatherings for Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays and urges precautions such as frequent handwashing.

“Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay home if you’re feeling ill,” Persichilli said. “Mask up in crowded indoor areas or when you are around high-risk individuals. If you have any symptoms, please get tested.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said if you’ve got symptoms, maybe consider skipping the gatherings.

“It’s hard to say around the holidays because we want to be together, but if you’re sick, we have to think about protecting other individuals and try to not partake in some of those events,” Tan said.

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There are currently 811 people hospitalized for COVID, up 26% in two weeks. Persichilli says that could top 2,000 by the expected January peak, a level that hasn’t been seen in April.

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

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