The Murphy administration views the next few weeks as critical to New Jersey's ability to keep coronavirus in check, and bring the state through the Winter months into Spring with hopes of mass vaccinations that could return the state to some sense of normal by Summer.

The FDA is expected to approve emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine as early as Thursday with the first doses being administered within days. The first study released by the FDA suggests the vaccine is both safe and highly effective across all races and age groups and for those with underlying health conditions. However, UK regulators say people with a history of serious allergic reactions shouldn't get Pfizer's COVID-19 shot.

The British Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency reported to the Parliament at least two allergic reactions to the vaccine, and the recommendation was made on a precautionary basis. The head of the MHRA, Dr. June Raine, noted allergic reactions were not widely reported from clinical trials, but at least two people who received the vaccine in Britain had the adverse reactions. British health officials started giving the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week on an emergency basis.

Meanwhile, a key measure of how aggressively COVID-19 is spreading in New Jersey has ticked upward for a second day. The "rate of transmission" gauges if the virus is spreading to multiple people from one infected host. Anything below 1.0 suggests the virus is not spreading. New Jersey's rate of transmission is now 1.08. That number does show continued spread. For example, 100 infected persons would infect approximately 108 additional people and increase exponentially from there. In June, the numbers were lowest, with New Jersey showing a rate of transmission of 0.76.

Amidst this second wave of infections, New Jersey currently ranks 29th in the nation for rate of transmission. By comparison, California is 1.21 and the highest in the nation. New York is ranked third worst at 1.19. Neighboring Pennsylvania ranks 11th at 1.12 and Delaware 5th at 1.17. Only 11 states have a transmission rate below 1.0 and the majority are sparsely populated Midwestern locations. The exception is Vermont at 0.99. The lowest rate in the nation is Wyoming at 0.91.

Monitoring the number of new positive tests being reported daily by the state Department of Health does not necessarily provide a clear picture of how rapidly COVID-19 is spreading. Gov. Phil Murphy noted this week that our testing capacity is 5 or 6 times greater than it was at the start of the pandemic. Upwards of 40,000 people are being tested daily in New Jersey. More tests means more positive outcomes, especially since many of the tests are given to people who may have had an exposure.

An encouraging sign is that hospitalizations remain relatively low despite the uptick in the rate of transmission and the number of positive tests.

At the peak of the outbreak in the spring, more than 8,000 were hospitalized. Admissions have held steady around 3,500 recently and hundreds are being discharged daily. Murphy pointed to the low hospitalization rate as one reason he was not considering more lockdown restrictions at this time.

None of the numbers seem to suggest a massive spread of infections following the Thanksgiving holiday and now state health officials hope residents will observe the same restrictions for the December holidays, including no travel and no large gatherings.

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