What to Know
- COVID hospitalizations in New Jersey are at their highest total since May 11, an increase Gov. Phil Murphy has long said is almost entirely attributable to spikes low vaccination rate communities
- The Garden State joined the growing list of states to require teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 this fall; they have an Oct. 18 deadline
- School personnel working in grade levels from pre-K-12 who aren't fully immunized by that date must undergo regular testing
New Jersey's statewide COVID hospitalizations topped 1,000 Wednesday for the first time in three and a half months, Gov. Phil Murphy said as he stressed the urgency once again for those who haven't been vaccinated to get dosed.
The spikes in cases, especially pronounced in low immunization rate communities, across New Jersey are reflective of the increases in neighboring New York, Connecticut and the entire United States, with just 60% of the eligible population nationwide being fully vaccinated as of the CDC's latest report.
According to the New York Times, New Jersey ranks seventh in the nation in terms of adult population fully vaccinated with a nearly 73% rate. But people ages 12 to 17 account for just 6% of the immunized, New Jersey's own data shows.
The rapid upticks are blamed on the highly transmissible delta variant and its mutations, which account for more than 94% of all positive samples in New Jersey sequenced in the last four weeks. The variant has been linked to more severe outcomes among the unvaccinated and is prompting a resurgence of mask and vaccination mandates across the country as the U.S. battles its fourth viral wave.
Anxiety is increasing across the board, particularly where schools have opened or will shortly reopen fully in person. Earlier this week, New Jersey joined the growing list of states to require teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 this fall. The current mandate for healthcare workers is also expanding to include all state employees.
Murphy announced earlier this month that school staff members, visitors and students from kindergarten to 12th grade are required to wear masks in New Jersey schools. New York's new governor, Kathy Hochul, reinstated a universal mask requirement for "everyone entering our schools" on her first day in office.
She supports a vaccination or weekly test-out option for all New York school personnel and says she is working with partners to make that happen.
The New Jersey mandate announced Monday requires all school personnel working in grade levels from pre-K-12 to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Employees who do not comply by that deadline must undergo regular testing, the governor added.
“Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities,” Murphy said.
His executive order applies to all schools statewide, including public, private and parochial preschool programs. His mandate also expands to all state employees – including those at state agencies, authorities, and public colleges and universities – who face the same Oct. 18 deadline. Previously, staff in New Jersey's hospitals, corrections facilities and assisted living centers had to get inoculated by Sept. 7.
It's unclear how many state employees, teachers and child care workers remain unvaccinated in New Jersey. Murphy says his administration has heard from local reports that an overwhelming majority of teachers are already vaccinated.
The state's biggest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, supported the order.
“This Executive Order is another example of Gov. Murphy’s unwavering commitment to health and safety of NJEA members and the students we serve,” said union President-elect Sean Spiller.
Two-thirds of New Jersey voters, including parents of school-age children, support the state’s school mask mandate, however, they are more divided on the idea of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for age-eligible children, a Monmouth University Poll published Monday found.
More on COVID-19
California, Washington, Oregon and Connecticut are the only states so far to enact the requirement for teachers due to rising coronavirus cases. New York City, the nation's largest public school system, announced on Monday it would require vaccination for all school employees without a test-out option.
The latest vaccine fervor comes as hospital admissions for confirmed COVID cases in kids under 18 are at their highest level in three months in the greater New York area -- and nationally, they're at the highest levels recorded yet.
Earlier this month, New Jersey's health commissioner said the percentage of those hospitalized with COVID who were children had tripled since January. With kids under 12 still unable to get the shot, masks, social distancing and vaccine mandate for teachers can help drive down cases and protect the unvaccinated.
"All these developments point to an urgent need for everyone to get vaccinated, especially for parents to take their 12- to 17-year-olds to be vaccinated as soon as possible," New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC