ESSEX COUNTY — Essex County's community transmission rate for COVID was listed as high this week, a situation shared by all of New Jersey's 21 counties.

Also, 19 of the 21 counties had a high "community level" of COVID. Hunterdon and Warren counties were listed as medium.

In high transmission areas, the state recommends that residents stay up to date on bivalent vaccines and "Wear a high-quality mask or respirator. If you are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, avoid non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed."

Here is Essex County's newest list of mobile sites to get a free vaccine. The sites rotate among West Orange, Bloomfield, Newark, and other towns each week. People may also get a vaccine at a medical office, local pharmacy, or government-run clinics in various towns.

Numbers In New Jersey This Week

This is a much lower number than at the start of the pandemic, when as many as 430 people died of COVID in New Jersey in one day in April 2020. See the states with the highest average deaths here.

Health professionals are hoping to slow the spread of COVID and other viruses to avoid overwhelming hospitals. The CDC recommended masking up in New Jersey last week as hospitals are dealing with a "tripledemic" of illnesses.

What About The New Variants?

Meanwhile, medical professionals have said that the new coronavirus subvariant XBB.1.5 — which health officials call the “most transmissible” descendant of the omicron variant — could fuel a quick rise in cases.

In the United States, XBB was responsible for more than 27 percent of cases last week, up from about 2 percent the first week of December, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s a stunning increase,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish K. Jha tweeted last week of the rapid rise in XBB cases, at the same time telling Americans it’s “critical” that Americans are up-to-date on bivalent booster shots.

Only about 15 percent of eligible Americans have gotten their bivalent booster shots, which protect against newer variants. That includes 38 percent of older Americans, who are most at risk of a serious illness.

“For folks without a very recent infection or a bivalent vaccine, you likely have very little protection against infection. And for older folks, diminishing protection against serious illness,” Jha said.

XBB.1.5 combines traits of previous mutations, which health experts say make it spread more easily, even among previously infected or vaccinated people. It’s more transmissible because of the mutations it has that allow the “virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization, told reporters last week.

However, there is no evidence XBB is more severe than other omicron strains, Van Kerkhove said.

“We are concerned about its growth advantage, in particular in some countries,” Van Kerkhove said, singling out Europe and the Northeast U.S., “where XBB.1.5 has rapidly replaced other circulating variants.”

COVID-19 infections have declined over the past year, to 470,699 weekly cases on Jan. 4, down from last year’s high of more than 5.6 million cases a week on Jan. 19, 2022.

Jha said he’s concerned about XBB, but “Am I worried this represents some huge setback? No.”

Besides getting a bivalent vaccine, Jha said Americans should take COVID-19 tests before large gatherings or if they will be seeing someone who is vulnerable.

Also, he said, wear high-quality facemasks in crowded indoor spaces, and “work to improve ventilation/filtration in indoor spaces.”

Anyone showing symptoms should get tested right away. The Paxlovid Molnupiravir treatments “should work fine based on what we know,” he said.

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