State surpasses 4M vaccinations; more worker categories eligible

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TRENTON — New Jersey has crossed the 4 million vaccination mark, well on its way to fully vaccinating 70 percent of the state’s adult population by summer.

A total of 4,030,061 COVID-19 inoculations have been administered in New Jersey by both the state and pharmacies through the federal program, as Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

Of that total, 1,473,409 New Jerseyans are considered fully vaccinated, having received the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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“Remember on Dec. 15, that number was zero,” Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday, thanking health care workers and personnel at the state’s six vaccination mega sites, pharmacies and community distribution centers. The governor has previously reported that the state aims to fully vaccinate 4.6 million New Jersey adults by July.

As the state crossed this latest milestone, more individuals are eligible to receive the vaccine starting today, the governor announced. Restaurant and food-processing or distribution workers, grocery store workers, warehouse employees, those in the hospitality industry, election workers, clergy, postal workers and those who work in the state’s judicial system are cleared to receive the jab.

This week, the state received a 20 percent increase in Pfizer vaccine allocation from the federal government. On Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that New Jersey residents have had 148,590 first and second doses of the jab.

The Moderna vaccine allocation on Monday was reported at 87,400 first and second doses.

Allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have also increased from last Monday, 10,200 doses, as this week the state received 51,700 doses.

Also Monday, the governor announced that he will sign an executive order increasing the general outdoor gathering limit to 200 individuals, up from 50. The indoor gathering limit will remain at 25 persons. The increase will come into effect at 6 a.m. on Friday.

“The reason we are increasing the outdoor limit is that as the weather gets warmer, we are urging everyone to engage in social activities outside whenever possible,” Gov. Murphy announced. Indoor gatherings have been shown to increase the probability of spreading the virus.

Religious services, political activities, weddings, funerals and memorials services do not have a cap for how many individuals man attend.

Entertainment venues will also see some relief from state restrictions. The state’s threshold for what constitutes a large venue will decrease from 5,000 seats to 2,500 seats. With that change, also effective on Friday, venues with 2,500 seats and up are allowed to have indoor seating up to 20 percent of capacity and 30 percent for outdoor venues.

As vaccine allocations increase and more restrictions are lifted, the state’s rate of infection and hospitalizations are also on the rise.

On Monday, the New Jersey Department of Health reported 3,174 new cases of the virus, bringing the total since last March to 792,616. The rate of transmission has been hovering at 1.10 for the past five days, meaning that each person infected with the virus is estimated to spread the disease to at least one other person.

Hospitalizations, which had previously remained under 2,000 patients in February and the beginning of March, have risen to 2,225. Of that total, 491 patients are in critical or intensive care 240 ventilators are in use.

Also on Monday, another 16 deaths linked to COVID-19 were reported, bringing the total death toll to 21,869. Not included in that figure are 2,535 probable deaths with the state believed to be linked to the virus.

Cases of the COVID-19 variants are also on the rise throughout New Jersey. Currently, the most common is the B.1.1.7 variants – originally identified in the United Kingdom – which increases the transmissibility of the virus, and the B.1.526 variant originally identified in New York.

Dr. Edward Lifshitz, the medical director for the New Jersey Department of Health, said on Monday that both those variants are “common” in New Jersey, and he estimated 10 to 40 percent of cases are stemming from those variants.

The New Jersey Department of Health’s website lists Ocean and Monmouth counties as having the most cases of the UK variant, with 132 and 80 cases, respectively. Other variants also identified in the state include the P.1 and P.2 variants, first found in Brazil; the b.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa, and the .1.427/B.1.429 variants which were both identified in California.

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