Masks recommended indoors in 9 N.J. counties with ‘high’ COVID risk, CDC says

Masks are now recommended for indoor public places and on public transportation in nine New Jersey counties for the first time since federal COVID-19 risk guidelines were updated in February.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated the nine counties in the state to “high” transmission risk for COVID-19 as cases continue to steadily increase. New Jersey reported 5,309 confirmed positive tests on Friday, the first time more than 5,000 cases have been reported since late January during the winter omicron wave.

The counties ranked as “high” risk include Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Gloucester, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean and Sussex, according to the CDC’s metrics.

Eleven counties are in the medium risk category: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Salem, Somerset and Union. Warren County is in the medium risk category. Masks are not recommended in the medium and low regions.

Gov. Phil Murphy ended remaining statewide mask mandates for schools and public transit in March as the omicron wave eased. He said as recently as last month that he doesn’t envision a return to statewide mask rules or other restrictions.

Murphy’s office did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment on nine counties being elevated to high transmission risk.

The CDC’s revised metrics introduced in February take into account case rate by population over the last seven days along with hospital admissions and hospital capacity.

New Jersey’s 71 hospitals had 727 patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus as of Thursday night, down 16 patients from the previous night. Still, the numbers of hospitalized coronaviruses remain far lower than when they peaked at 6,089 on Jan. 10 during the micron wave.

The state’s seven-day average for confirmed positive tests increased to 3,453 on Friday, up 39% from a week ago, and up 136% from a month ago. Cases have been steadily rising for the past month, despite concerns that wide availability of at-home rapid tests are going uncounted because they are not reported to health officials.

New Jersey has seen the BA.2 strain of COVID-19 spread for weeks, however, at lower rates than the sweeping omicron emerges in late 2021 through January. The latest strain of the virus apparently spreads more easily but does not lead to more serious illnesses.

NJ Advance Media staff writers Brent Johnson and Deion Johnson contributed to this report.

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Noah Cohen may be reached at ncohen@njadvancemedia.com.

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