The increase of COVID-19 cases across the United States led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that everyone, including the fully vaccinated, again wear masks indoors in public places with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission rates.
The CDC’s updated guidance also recommends for community leaders to encourage vaccination and mask-wearing to prevent further outbreaks in areas of high transmission.
The recommendations include indoor masks for all students, teachers, staff and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
When the CDC previously revised its guidance on May 13 for vaccinated people to unmask, Delta only represented 1% of reported infections. Now, according to the CDC, it represents at least 83% of cases.
Several counties in New Jersey meet the updated criteria. The state is facing a surge COVID-19 cases, but experts say it has not entered another wave of the pandemic.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
The evolution of this local situation will be determined by what the state’s roughly 4 million unvaccinated residents do, experts say.
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“Our numbers have increased dramatically. We are at higher daily case numbers now than where we were this time last year.” said Stephanie Silvera, an infectious disease expert and professor at Montclair State University.
According to a Spencer Kent report from NJ.com, eight months after the rollout of vaccines, new coronavirus cases are again at concerning levels. They are reaching a statewide transmission rate of 1.5 (meaning each new case is leading to 1.5 additional infections). That level is the highest it has climbed since it began the pandemic crisis.
The CDC new guidelines come when the highly contagious Delta variant which has accounted for nearly 75% of new cases in New Jersey over the past month keeps spreading.
“I think that as we, again, start to shift back to more indoor activities heading into the fall, if we don’t get this under control, we are going to see another big increase,” Silvera said. “And that’s going to be driven largely by people who are unvaccinated.”
In April, New Jersey was riding high in terms of administering the COVID-19 vaccine. That month, nurses administered about 2.86 million doses of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
In the three ensuing months combined, New Jersey has barely exceeded that April total. In May, June and thus far in July, New Jersey has administered 2.94 million doses.
The state gave out 1.77 million doses in May, a 38% drop from April. Doses then dropped by more than half to just over 851,000 in June, and now in July, the state has administered about 325,000 doses. This puts the state on pace for about 480,000 doses this month, a 44% drop from June. And the CDC is now revising guidelines.
Dr. Thomas Birch, infectious disease specialist and medical director at Holy Name Medical Center’s Institute for Clinical Research, said he hopes the state can avoid a fourth wave.
“It’s not another wave in New Jersey right now,” he said. “It’s another wave in some other states. And we’re bracing, and we’re ready. But we’re hoping that it’s not.”