Gov. Phil Murphy says unvaccinated people are spreading a COVID variant, which is probably the reason that transmission numbers have fallen flat but not continued to drop.

Murphy stressed the message to all Garden State residents is “get vaccinated because this is overwhelmingly now a pandemic of unvaccinated.”

Over the past few months all of the COVID metrics had been steadily improving, but since the beginning of this week New Jersey hospitalizations and new infection rates have been slowly increasing while the the rate of transmission has been holding steady at 0.99.

State officials believe the Delta variant is probably the reason why, and there is concern about a possible uptick in COVID cases in the coming months.

During the Wednesday COVID update, Gov. Phil Murphy said “are the numbers up in part because of the Delta variant running among unvaccinated folks"

Murphy said if there are still a couple of million unvaccinated people in New Jersey in September, that would leave the state "exposed."

He noted the beds from the mobile hospitals set up in different parts of the state last spring are in storage, just in case they are needed if the pandemic takes an unexpected twist.

Dr. Ed Lifshitz, director of communicable disease services at the state Health Department, said that while vaccination rates are increasing and everyone is spending more time outside, fewer people are wearing masks and social distancing.

“You do see people acting with more abandon,” he said.

Lifshitz said he doesn’t believe COVID will spike again as badly as it did during the second wave last winter.

“But certainly I am concerned and we do watch the numbers every day to make sure that we’re not turning around and going higher," he said.

Murphy said that when COVID infections stabilize at some point in the future, “it feels like it may well be a flu-like reality in the sense that folks should not expect every single number to go to zero and stay at zero forever and always. That it will be in our midst.”

In a typical bad flu season, about a thousand New Jersey residents will die from complications caused by influenza. The number of deaths from COVID right now is twice that number.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said health officials are watching the Delta variant very closely “because it may result in local surges among the unvaccinated.”

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