Thirteen of New Jersey’s 21 counties saw coronavirus spread in the past week, including Ocean County, which led the state in the disease’s growth.
Ocean County added 9.1 new infections per 10,000 residents from Sept. 16 to Sept. 23, a rise of 52% compared to the week before. It was followed by Gloucester County at 7.3 new infections per 10,000 people and Monmouth County at 5.1 new infections per 10,000 people.
The three counties have seen a cluster of new cases recently, and all three were highlighted Friday by Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration as potential hotspots that the state was monitoring. That came as New Jersey remains on a better footing than the United States as a whole, with the state recording 3.6 new cases per 10,000 residents, compared to a national rate of 9.1 new cases per 10,000.
“It’s fair to say we got a few counties that are rising to a level of concern,” Murphy said at a news briefing, pointing particularly to Ocean County, where the state has dispatched additional contact tracers and 6,000 more coronavirus test kits.
“This is clear evidence that we are not out of the woods yet,” Murphy said.
State official have complained that house parties in Monmouth County have spurred the spread of the virus there. Ocean and Gloucester have recently seen coronavirus positivity rates that, if they were a state, would place travelers from them on New Jersey’s 14-day quarantine list.
New Jersey has been gradually reopening since being devastated this spring when the pandemic first swept the country. More than 16,000 New Jersey residents are believed to have died in the outbreak, with deaths peaking in April and now regularly in the single digits each day.
Still, the disease is spreading in New Jersey. The week’s figures were a 12% increase in new infections from the prior week, with just eight counties seeing declines in the number of new cases.
They included Gloucester, which had an even higher rate of new infections earlier this month, when it added 9.7 cases per 10,000 people from Sept. 9 to Sept. 16. The others were Hunterdon, Cape May, Mercer, Somerset, Passaic, Middlesex and Salem.
With Monmouth and Gloucester counties, state officials have pointed to social gatherings as the driver of the new caseloads, with Gloucester’s tied to on- and off-campus student housing at Rowan University.
In Ocean County, cases have been growing by 100 to 150 a day, and at least half of those are in Lakewood, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
Lakewood is the county’s largest township and is home to a sizable Orthodox Jewish community that is now observing the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Its public school system is also among those in New Jersey that have resumed full-time classroom instruction.
On Friday, Murphy said he is sure there is “some amount of connection” between the rise of cases and religious worship, even as he pushed back against those who would draw prejudicial conclusions from that.
“I don’t want anybody, I don’t want a speck of anybody, in this state saying, ‘Hey, it’s because of them,’ or whatever,” Murphy said.
The state has already sent additional contact tracers to Ocean County, and Persichilli said more will be deployed next week. She praised the cooperation of Lakewood’s religious and community leaders, saying she had just gotten off a phone call in which they asked, “What more can we do?” and “How can we cooperate?”
“They’re just as interested as anyone to protect the community that they’re in service to,” Persichilli said.
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