As the world’s attention is focused on the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 that was identified by doctors in South Africa, Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey is monitoring the research into the variant and will “follow the science” when it comes to potential steps taken to mitigate its spread.
In a briefing, the World Health Organization warned that the Omicron variant’s high number of mutations — including up to 32 variations in the spike protein — meant that there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have “severe consequences.”
“I’m not the expert, but I’d be stunned if it is not already in the United States,” Murphy said. “The reality is that our region is a hub of international travel and commerce and we must be ready now in anticipation of this variant hitting us.”
There is still very little known about the Omicron variant at this point, and experts say that it could take more than two weeks for additional information on its transmissibility and the severity of the illness it causes.
Murphy said the New Jersey Department of Health is prepared to quickly identify Omicron through both PCR testing and virus sequencing processes and protocols in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We are still registering well more than 1,000 new confirmed cases per day, and our hospitalizations are up sharply over the past several weeks,” Murphy said, adding that these numbers are being fueled in large part by the Delta COVID-19 variant, which remains a threat.
Murphy said he strongly encourages everyone to continue to wear a mask indoors when social distancing is not possible.
There are currently 950 patients in New Jersey hospitals for COVID-19 reasons, with 906 confirmed cases. This is the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in seven weeks, according to Murphy.
New Jersey’s current COVID-19 positivity rate is 9.23%, while the rate of transmission (rt) is 1.18. While this number is above the benchmark of one, Murphy said it has gone down over the past week.
“The big test is going to be over the next couple of weeks to see if we get the anticipated spike coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday,” Murphy said.
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