With few mask mandates and COVID-19 restrictions still in place, this summer may feel a world away from the height of the pandemic at this time last year. But state records show the coronavirus is still circulating, spreading faster than it did in June and July 2020 and sometimes infecting more people each day.
The virus’s rate of transmission, or RT — a measure of how quickly it spreads — spiked this week to 1.16 as of Thursday, a level not seen since late November and above the 1.11 peak recorded in July 2020. Anything above 1 indicates active spread. New Jersey’s RT level remained below this threshold almost all spring.
In addition, on nine of the past 30 days the number of new COVID-19 cases surpassed the daily diagnoses recorded on the same day last year, according to an NJ Spotlight News analysis of state data. The new cases recorded on July 9 and July 15 — 438 and 446, respectively — were higher than on any day in July 2020, the analysis found.
While more than 5 million New Jerseyans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus since December, infection-control measures — like masking and social distancing — have been lifted in recent months for most situations, although face coverings are still required in medical settings and public transit. New Jersey is also battling new viral variants, including the delta strain that is far more transmissible than previous versions. Delta now accounts for roughly four in 10 COVID-19 cases here, according to state records.
While COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths are not at levels recorded this time last year, according to the analysis, they are also not trending downward the way they did in the summer of 2020. Hospitals have treated a steady flow of roughly 250–300 coronavirus patients each day since mid-June, while COVID-19 fatalities have ping-ponged between low single digits and nearly 20 deaths a day over the past month.
“It cannot be understated that these numbers continue to be driven by the unvaccinated,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at his pandemic media briefing Monday. “All three of the vaccines we have in our toolbox, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, are proving themselves highly effective against the delta and other variants, especially in protecting folks from an illness that would require hospitalization and, please God, from death. The vaccines are widely available. They are absolutely free. We urge you to go out and get your vaccine to protect yourself, your family and your community.”