Local Health Expert Discusses Prospects Of Protocols With Increase In COVID Cases

By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY — Governor Murphy finally lifted mask mandates on March 7th for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020. Just a little over a month later though, it seems that the restrictions might come back into place, at least temporarily, as new cases arise amidst the spread of the newest BA.2 Omicron sub-variant.

New Jersey started off on a positive stride with mask mandates lifted at the beginning of March and record low numbers continuing almost the entire month. By mid-March, numbers hit 513 new cases in a day, which is the lowest the state has seen in months. 

With that said, by the last week of March, numbers started to go up slightly again with the seven-day average fluctuating between 800-900 in the middle of March and hitting 1,073 by March 31st. Then, on April 16th, the daily number of reported cases hit 2,964 with a seven-day average of 2,065 cases a day. This marks a recognizable shift from where the country was at prior.

In the third week of April, the numbers reduced back down to 996 on April 11, before doubling the next day to 1,817. While this certainly exceeds some of the numbers seen in March, these numbers don’t even remotely compare to the spike this past winter, which hit 31,699 cases a day on January 10.

Even though New Jersey has reflected worldwide trends with an increase of cases, the state still remains relatively low. According to infectious disease expert and Chief of Medicine at Jefferson Health, Dr. Todd Levin, death rates have not increased with the rise of cases. Additionally, the number of hospitalizations across the three Jefferson hospitals have not escalated either.

In fact, hospitalizations have actually continued to decrease throughout the state. This is a positive sign that the vaccine is working, and patients are continuing to experience mild versions of the virus. Levin says that this should remind residents to stay up to date with the booster shots and get vaccinated if not already.

The effectiveness of the booster can be demonstrated with areas like Ocean County, that have high numbers of unvaccinated residents and higher death rates as well. According to recent data, the county currently has about 459 virus-related deaths for every 100,000 residents.

While the increase in cases might be due to the spread of the newest sub-variant, Levin says that it might also be due to the new policies. Since the increase began just about three weeks after the mask mandates were loosened, there’s probable reason to attribute the new cases to the more relaxed atmosphere.

Since the state just reopened, it’s unlikely that a new state of emergency will be put into place, especially since hospitalizations have remained relatively stagnant. In times of COVID spikes though, Levin notes that it’s important to take measures to limit the spread and prevent the virus from getting out of control.

“I think it’s important when we have a new strain circulating that we have to step up the infection control measures and bring the mask mandates back and decrease large groups gathering,” Levin says. “We’ll see less cases of disease severity.”

Even if COVID is here to stay, it’s important to keep the impact of the virus minimal. If the numbers escalate too quickly, there will inevitably be higher numbers of hospitalizations which threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system. Thus, it might be more strategic for everyone to mask up for the time being so that the strain passes through more quickly.

More importantly though, vaccinations are crucial to prevent further strains from developing. If the country or the world reaches herd immunity, there will be less risk of constantly shutting down and reopening the country.

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