As we approach the July 4 holiday weekend, there are continuing signs things are getting back to normal, and the state's COVID metrics continue to show the pandemic is waning here.

Gov. Phil Murphy reported just 191 new COVID cases on Sunday and the state's rate of transmission remains below 1.0. Just a few hundred are hospitalized statewide. While the state did record another 3 deaths attributed to COVID, all the key metrics remain at lows not seen since the start of the pandemic.

All of this has led to the continuing reopening of New Jersey. Unmasked crowds have been flocking to the Jersey Shore. Family and friends are enjoying a night out at local restaurants. Businesses are starting to call workers back to the office. New Jersey transit is reporting a surge in weekend ridership.

The wildcard remains the rise of COVID variants, especially the so-called Delta mutation. Both state and national health experts predict Delta will become the dominant strain in New Jersey and the U.S. in the weeks ahead.

While it is more easily transmitted, the Delta variant is not believed to result in more serious illness. More than 7% of the variants detected in New Jersey are now Delta. A week ago, it was about 5%.

New Jersey is still faring better with Delta than the rest of the nation. More than 10% of all new cases in the US are Delta, with the greatest spread coming among younger Americans. Chief White House Medical Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says Delta cases are doubling every two weeks or so.

One of the reasons New Jersey is seeing a lower instance of infection in general, and specifically with Delta, is our high vaccination rate. About 4.93 million are considered fully with the state giving out nearly 10 million total doses. Current vaccinations are believed to be more than 99% effective in preventing serious illness from COVID infection, including mutated strains.

More vaccinations, means fewer hosts for the virus. State health officials say new infections are largely coming among the unvaccinated.

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