Alarm bells aren’t ringing yet but New Jersey officials are closely watching a disturbing COVID metrics trend.

During the Wednesday coronavirus update in Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy announced 2,957 additional coronavirus cases have been confirmed, the fourth day in a row that number has gone up.

Over the past week the average number of confirmed new cases is up by 20%.

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At the same time, hospitalizations, now standing at 2,921, have also been trending slightly higher for the past four days and there has also been a rise in patients in the ICU and on ventilators.

Additionally, the rate of transmission continues to slowly increase, now up to 0.97, from 0.87 a week ago.

And there were 66 additional COVID fatalities announced on Wednesday, bringing the total confirmed death total in Jersey to 21,052.

There is speculation the trend could be linked to the growing number of COVID variants being identified in New Jersey, nevertheless the governor announced the state will allow sleepaway camps to operate this summer and effective Friday morning, indoor limits for wedding receptions will be increased to 35% of venue capacity or up to 150 people.

Right now the wedding reception limit is 10 people. Murphy said those attending wedding receptions will be required to only eat or drink while seated, and wear face coverings at all other times.

“We know these events take time to plan and we see things slowly moving in the right direction,” and he said sleepaway camps are getting the green light because “we expect to be in a much better place this summer.”

At the same time, however, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli expressed concern about the growing number of variants.

“The variants of concern are ones that have mutations that might contribute to easier transmission, result in more severe illness, and may have some resistance to vaccination,” she said.

Persichilli noted the U.K. variant is one the mutations the CDC is most concerned about. Samples of this variant have been identified in 16 counties in the state.

She said two cases of the Brazilian variant have also been detected in Hudson County and 34 cases of the New York variant have been detected in the northeastern part of the state.

“While we are concerned about the increase in variant strains, said Persichilli, “the public health prevention measures we’ve all been using (masking, social distancing, hand washing and now getting vaccinated) are important tools to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Murphy has not loosened restrictions on restaurants, saying "we just don’t think that’s the responsible step to take" considering the wild card strains.

The governor said the uptick is concerning but the state should receive a big increase in vaccine deliveries this month.

“Each shot is another ray of light in that new dawn,” said Murphy. “Each one comes with a little extra hope for the post COVID days that await.”

He also said he will be getting vaccine “sooner rather than later.” Murphy, who is 63, has repeatedly said he wants to wait his turn before signing up for a vaccination, to give those who face an elevated risk from the virus a chance to get their shots first.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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