As national focus turns to the newly identified omicron variant, New Jersey hospitals are seeing a sharp rise in cases from the still dominant delta strain.
Figures shared by Gov. Phil Murphy reflect a nearly 20% increase in COVID hospitalizations statewide two weeks in a row. Specifically, that number jumped 22% between Nov. 15 and Nov. 22, and another 18% from Nov. 22 to Nov. 29.
Dr. Daniel Varga, who works at Hackensack Meridian Health, said that while it's good the state's COVID levels are not near where they were at in January, "the bad news is we're double what were were three and a half weeks ago." Murphy was similarly concerned.
"We're still registering well more than a thousand new confirmed cases in a day and our hospitalizations are up sharply over the past several weeks," the governor said Monday. "Our numbers are still being fueled by the delta variant."
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The swing upward hasn't prompted any immediate changes in hospital policy, especially as it relatives to elective surgeries. Murphy called cutting such surgeries "draconian," and said there was no indication the state would need to take that step soon.
"I had surgery for cancer, and found out later -- for a malignant tumor -- found out later that would have been considered an elective, which is not the way I saw it. So that's a pretty draconian step and we're not remotely there," the governor said.
The state's department of health is monitoring for the omicron variant through PCR testing and virus sequencing. Although it has yet to be detected, Murphy echoed many public health officials who believe the new variant is already in the U.S.
"We must be ready now in anticipation of this variant hitting us," he said.
"Right now, 100 percent of the viruses we see are delta, but when we don't see delta we have the potential very easily to identify whether omicron is one of the infecting viruses," said Dr. David Perlin, the chief scientific officer at Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation, who said that it is "likely" that omicron is already in the U.S.
The best way to be ready, the governor and New Jersey's health commissioner reiterated, is to get vaccinated. The number of New Jerseyans who have completed a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine has reached nearly 5.9 million, and the new variant has prompted more to get vaccinated or receive their booster.
Murphy made no mention of altering masking guidance for the state, such as the expanded advisory issued earlier in the day by New York City's health commissioner. He also said he would be speaking with the White House on Monday about the omicron variant and travel bans.
"Get vaccinated folks, and get boosted if you're vaccinated. The added protection from a booster is no longer an advantage but a necessity," he said.
Over the weekend, Murphy received a booster dose of the COVID-19 along with his wife and kids. So far, more than 1.2 million booster doses have been administered across the state.