New Jersey is suspending its response to the pandemic as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, but health officials will continue to closely monitor the new variant, which could spread faster than the omicron strain that swept the country in December and January.

BA.2 – the so-called stealth variant – has been identified in about 1% of COVID-19 cases reviewed in the last month, government officials said on Wednesday. Federal models suggest this could account for about 6% of diagnoses in the New York-New Jersey region. BA.2 is already prevalent in some Asian countries and in Denmarkwhere the number of deaths and deaths has increased, which is a matter of concern that this option could do similar damage elsewhere as governments repeal pandemic protection measures.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that the state will be ready if BA.2 or other options increase, thanks in part to coordination with the federal government. Murphy said he had informed White House officials that New Jersey would be needed if that happened, and was confident the response could be increased quickly. The list includes instant access – to scale – to testing, vaccines, PPE (personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals), hospital capacity, antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibodies. Be that as it may, we have a wall of resources built both at the federal and state levels that we will have at our disposal, ”Murphy said Wednesday.

Minor impact so far

While it’s too early to know exactly what option BA.2 could mean for state residents, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, director of the New Jersey Infectious Diseases Service, explained that the modified strain has not had a significant impact to date. “There is some evidence that it may be a little more advanced than the standard version of the Omicron, but the short answer is: we don’t know yet, and of course we don’t see a big increase in cases in the United States or New Jersey from that.” he said Wednesday.

“I do not yet see any evidence that BA.2 covers or is likely to penetrate,” Lifshitz added, noting that 99% of the cases that have been sequenced – a small percentage of all tests on COVID-19 – still remain. . found it to be the original omicron. “Although that’s why we’re keeping an eye out to make sure we know what’s going to happen,” he added.

Weekly reports created by the Lifshitz team using data from doctors and hospitals on diagnoses of diseases similar to COVID-19 show that now all six regions of the state are experiencing “Moderate” disease levels compared to “high” and “very high” levels at the beginning of the year. The daily number of cases decreased almost 97% since their peak earlier this year and hospitalizations have fallen by 20% since just last week, according to state figures. These days, about every 20 people held across the state are diagnosed with COVID-19, compared with 4 out of 10 during the recent surge, officials said.

Murphy said New Jersey would stick to its plan to lift the controversial mandate on masks for schools and children’s centers starting next week, a process backed by instructions released Wednesday by the State Department of Health. “Many of these decisions will quite rightly be made at the district level with the participation of local health authorities and local health realities,” he said.

Anniversary of COVID-19

Murphy also announced that he would hold his last pre-scheduled pandemic briefing for the media on March 4, the anniversary of COVID-19’s first diagnosis in New Jersey in 2020, and that weekly media events were no longer needed given the virus’s declining exposure. Murphy has promised to reconsider the mandate for masks for civil servants soon and try to open additional government agencies that have been operating remotely since the start of the pandemic.

“We want schools to start working” without a mask mandate before repealing the requirement elsewhere, Murphy said, although face coverage will still be required in medical facilities, public transportation and other conditions based on federal orders. “We have this thing on the run, there is no doubt about it,” he said.

The decline in COVID-19 will not affect New Jersey’s requirements for vaccinations for health workers, corrections and other high-risk locations, Murphy said, although he said government orders may need to be changed to bring them into line with the new federal instructions. Health workers need to be fully vaccinated and encouraged by Monday, and some nursing home operators are concerned that the mandate will exacerbate the current staff shortage.

Murphy cited these general declining trends on Wednesday, announcing the cessation of personal media briefings, events he and his team have held more than 250 times since March 2020. Government officials will continue to inform journalists and the public online, he said, and will resume meetings in Trenton only in the event of “significant, significant deterioration in data.”

“New” new normal

Although the briefings served an important purpose, Murphy said it was time to go “beyond the pandemic” and the “new normal” phase. “The more people get vaccinated and stimulated, the return to the normal life we ​​all want will come faster and faster,” he added.

Murphy noted that the level of vaccination against COVID-19 in New Jersey is one of the highest in the country, but promised to continue to push those who have not been immunized to get vaccinated. Officials are particularly concerned about delayed takeovers among young children and the fact that about half of New Jersey residents who are eligible have not received a booster, critical protection from omicrons.

To help fill that gap, the state has launched Increase NJ2 week on Wednesday, several hundred vaccination sites are holding special events to encourage participation. “I want to call on all those who are eligible for vaccination or booster doses to provide maximum protection against COVID-19,” said State Health Commissioner Judy Persikili.

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