With the omicron variant of COVID-19 present, total COVID cases on the rise and Christmas quickly approaching, Gov. Phil Murphy gave his last New Jersey COVID-19 update of the year on Monday afternoon with a message about safety.
Murphy urged people to celebrate Christmas with COVID in mind -- keeping family circles close, wearing masks in large crowds and seeking out vaccine boosters.
"Please celebrate it safely, responsibly, get tested if you're in doubt" Murphy said.
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“With cases rising and holiday gatherings and travel, you want to protect yourself, especially if you are not feeling well or believe you may have been exposed, even if you don’t have any symptoms,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
"Let's spread cheer, not COVID," Persichilli said.
New Jersey reported 6,505 new lab-confirmed cases Monday, giving the Garden State one of it's biggest totals to date and marking the fifth-straight day above 6,200.
Murphy and Persichilli noted Monday the daily case counts are the highest since January. They said that the surge is most likely due to the delta and omicron variants.
Hospitalizations are on the rise too (rising to 1,902 Monday), up nearly 11% in a week to levels last recorded in April. However, the number is nowhere near a peak above 8,000 in April 2020, Murphy, a first-term Democrat, said.
On the latest day for which data was available, the state said nearly one in every eight COVID tests statewide came back positive -- again, back to April levels.
In an effort to arm its residents amid the new omicron variant wave, New Jersey partnered with a new testing provider to offer free at-home test kits to be sent through the mail.
The state's health department is working with Vault Medical Services to send out COVID-19 saliva tests. All residents are eligible to request a test to be sent out for next-day delivery, and results are promised within 48 hours after the tests are received by a lab.
Gov. Phil Murphy has stressed in recent briefings the need to increase vaccinations and booster shots to shore up defenses against the surge in positive cases.
Most schools will soon be on break, but with updated COVID quarantine rules once students return. Persichilli said that quarantine rules for schools were recently updated -- and shortened in some cases -- to meet new CDC standards, which can can read here.