Once the virus Epicenter, New York and New Jersey will lead the nation again – NBC New York
A year after New York and New Jersey became a global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, they’re back on top of the list of US states with the highest rates of infection.
Even as the vaccination campaign has risen, the number of new infections in New Jersey has increased 37% in just over a month to about 23,600 every seven days. About 50,000 people a week in New York test positive for the virus, a number that hasn’t changed much since mid-February.
In terms of per capita new infections among the US states, the two states now rank 1st and 2nd. New Jersey has reported about 647 new cases per 100,000 population in the last 14 days. New York has an average of 548.
The situation in New York and New Jersey reflects a national trend in which the number of cases has increased in the past few days. There are an average of 62,000 cases per day in the US, up from 54,000 two weeks ago.
Neither state is witnessing anything like what they saw last spring when hospitals – and morgues – were overcrowded. And like the rest of the country, they are both in much better places than they were in January, at the height of the winter peak of the pandemic.
However, the lack of improvement, or even relapse, in recent weeks has raised concerns that states are opening up too quickly and people are too cautious, as well as potentially more contagious variants of the virus are spreading further.
“As cases decrease or increase, it is time to reconsider the guidelines,” said Roy Gulick, director of the infectious diseases division at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center.
In February, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed the state’s largest stadiums to return to hosting sporting events and concerts, albeit at 10% of normal capacity. New York cinemas were allowed to reopen. Restaurants can now be 50% busy in New York City and 75% busy in other states. Indoor fitness classes have also been resumed.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy conducted a similar reopening. The state’s restaurants are also allowed to operate at half capacity, and hairdressers, salons, and other personal care businesses are resuming business.
That has happened in other parts of the country as well.
Utah, Alabama, Arkansas, and Indiana will end mask mandates in early April, joining states like Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Montana, and Iowa, which have been removing face-covering requirements in recent weeks. Some states allow companies to operate at full capacity.
But in Illinois on Friday, the state health director stressed the need to continue wearing masks and social distancing as the number of cases and hospitalizations increased. The total confirmed and probable illness in a day was over 3,000 on Friday for the first time in seven weeks, and hospital admissions have increased 15% in the past five days.
Murphy has said in recent days that due to the New Jersey resurgence, he will be taking a hiatus to further relax the rules.
The number of people hospitalized in New York with the virus has increased to around 4,600 since mid-March. About 2,200 virus patients are reported in hospitals in New Jersey – around 300 in the past few weeks.
“They’re spreading faster and our vaccination rates are improving every week, but they’re certainly not where we want them to be,” said Bruce Farber, chief infectious disease and public health and epidemiology director at Northwell Health.
Experts cite several potential factors, including the spread of potentially contagious variants in the densely populated area.
“Is there anything different in this part of the country than in some other parts of the country?” asked Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the medical director of the New Jersey Communicable Disease Service at the State Department of Health. “And the answer is probably yes.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has questioned whether Cuomo is easing restrictions “for political reasons” despite concerns. The governor faces calls for his resignation for sexual harassment.
But then de Blasio himself announced that from May 80,000 more city employees would no longer work from home.
New York District Attorney Jumaane Williams urged New York to halt plans to reopen.
“I urge the governor to stick to science, trust the experts, and stop the planned reopenings now before they take effect and more infected,” said Williams.
Experts fear the public will get the message that increased vaccination means the state understands, even though only a fraction of the public has completed a full course. Vaccines reduce the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, but scientists are still studying how well they can keep the virus from spreading.
“It is a mistake to allow larger groups to gather together and get the message across to the public that we are over the worst and can go back to normal,” Farber said.
Sean Clouston, a professor and neuroepidemiologist at Stony Brook University, said growth in new cases is focused on younger people, who in New York cannot be vaccinated unless they have certain health problems or certain jobs. He said their infection rates could drop once they are also eligible.
Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey.