Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) discussed the omicron coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant, its growing presence in countries around the world and how New Jersey plans to handle its potential spread in a press conference yesterday.
He said that given the variant’s recent identification in South Africa as well as at least two cases that have been identified in Canada, he would be shocked if omicron had not already entered the U.S.
“The reality is that as our region is a hub of international travel and commerce, we must be ready now in anticipation of this variant hitting us,” Murphy said. “There is still very much unknown about this new variant. We are all closely following the research into this variant as it is released, and we’re all watching closely as new cases are discovered and reported."
He said the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) is prepared to quickly identify omicron in the state through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, virus sequencing processes, protocols in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s lab own capabilities.
Murphy said New Jersey will continue to follow the science when shaping its response and that this new variant should not take away from the prevalence of the delta COVID-19 variant that is currently spreading throughout the state.
“Another thing that we all must keep in mind (is) that just because there’s a new variant out there does not mean that delta has lost any of its transmissibility or its virulence … We’re still registering more than 1,000 new confirmed cases a day, and our hospitalizations are up sharply over the past several weeks,” he said.
New Jersey DOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli said while there are currently many unknowns regarding the variant, studies are now underway to assess omicron’s transmissibility, severity and risk for reinfection.
“Given the unique signature generated by this variant, PCR tests are able to identify the omicron variant. This will help lead to efficient detection of this variant while further sequencing is being performed,” Persichilli said. “Our lab is reaching out to clinical labs to be on the lookout for this pattern and to report if and when it is observed.”
Murphy urged everyone who is eligible to receive their COVID-19 booster shot to do so in order to help combat the spread of current and future variants throughout the state.
“We do not yet know what the omicron variant means for us, but we are still not done with delta,” he said.