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How Ready is New Jersey if COVID-19 Surges Again?

by Lilo H. Stainton, Health Care Writer, NJ Spotlight News

This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to FULL story:

With COVID-19 case numbers down significantly since the January peak, and public and political tolerance ebbing for the pandemic and measures to control it, New Jersey is scaling back its pandemic infrastructure.

More than 1,000 COVID-19 testing locations still exist statewide, including pop-up and permanent clinics that provide free screenings, and nearly twice as many immunization sites, according to the state Department of Health. But just two of the six testing mega-sites the department ran at the height of the pandemic remain, one of which is open just a single day a week. Counties have also reduced the days and hours testing and vaccinations are available through their programs.

Less contact tracing? The health department said it also plans to eliminate half of the nearly 2,000 COVID-19 contact tracers now employed by the state to track the viral spread this month, based on federal guidance that no longer call for all cases to be investigated. Additional staff is available if a surge occurs and the workforce will be adjusted as needed, health officials said. Monitoring systems largely remain in place and the public will continue to have access to data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths and other metrics, the department said.

State and county officials said these testing sites and vaccination programs can be re-expanded quickly if needed and mega-sites could be reopened within three weeks or less, something the health department chose to do last fall when case numbers began to increase again. But some public health leaders worry these systems might not be nimble enough if New Jersey faces another sudden surge like the one triggered by the omicron variant late last year.