N.J. coronavirus update: South Jersey now leads the state in the number of infections

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at the opening of a mass vaccination site at Rowan College

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at the opening of a mass vaccination site at Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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South Jersey has overtaken North Jersey as the leader in COVID infections. Throughout most of the pandemic, North Jersey led the state.

“We’re seeing the opposite of what we experienced a year ago,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday during the state’s COVID briefing.

As of Sept. 30, the Garden State’s positivity rate was 4.01%. When broken down by region, South Jersey’s positivity rate was 5.15%. In Central Jersey, the rate was 4.68% and in North Jersey, it’s 3.06%.

The positivity rate is the proportion of tests that return with positive results. Five percent is the threshold at which the rate is considered “too high,” according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

One year ago, the positivity rate in South Jersey was 2.56%.

“The best we can look at is the gatherings for the summer, primarily in the southern portion of the state,” Persichilli added, “That’s the only thing I think we can point to specifically. That’s where most of the positivity is.”

Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the health department’s medical director, concurred, adding, “There are a whole bunch of reasons why that might be happening.”

“Certainly, part of it has to do with the fact that over the summer months, that’s where people tended to congregate more,” he said.

Officials said they would be watching infections in the southern part of the state while investigating other causes for the increase in infections. Among other factors prompting the increase include the low number of vaccinations, as well as cases in adjoining states trending upward, according to the health department.

Pregnant people urged to get vaccinated

Also during the briefing, officials also urged pregnant people to get vaccinated after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “amplified” the risks unvaccinated pregnant people face in not taking the vaccine.

Recent research shows, cases of COVID-19 in symptomatic, pregnant people have a higher risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death. Only 31% of pregnant people are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, with rates “markedly” varying by race and ethnicity, said Persichilli.

“Vaccination coverage is highest among Asian individuals who are pregnant at 45.7%, but lower among Latino pregnant individuals at 25%, and lowest among Black pregnant individuals at 15.6%,” she added, citing CDC data.

Persichilli said that vaccination is recommended for everyone 12 and older, including people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might be planning to become pregnant in the future. She adds that there is no evidence that infertility is a side effect from any of the available vaccines.

As of Monday, there are more than 5.8 million fully vaccinated people in New Jersey, with an additional 181,614 receiving either a booster or third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

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