Even though millions of New Jerseyans have been vaccinated and masking, social distancing and strict indoor and outdoor capacity rules remain in place, infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths in the Garden State are higher than many other states.

New Jersey ranks 3rd in the nation for hospitalizations per 100,000 residents and 7th for deaths.

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During Wednesday’s COVID update, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said as the number COVID variants circulating continues to increase, “New Jersey ranks 3rd in hospitalizations per 100,000 in the United States, and we rank 7th in deaths per 100,000.”

“The statistics demonstrate that this virus is unrelenting and we are still in he midst of this battle," Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday. "We cannot let our guard down. Despite the increasing number of vaccinations we must remain vigilant.”

Nevertheless, Gov. Phil Murphy said with the Garden State set to pass the 5 million vaccination mark and more supplies on the way, he still believes we will be able to return to some kind of normalcy by the start of the summer season.

“This is not forever and always,” he said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel here even notwithstanding these variants. But our vigilance, doing the basic stuff is going to get us to that light sooner than later.”

Murphy said with vaccine supplies increasing, better knowledge and treatments and improved understanding about how to slow the spread of the virus, he remains convinced the COVID metrics will start to improve shortly.

“I’ve been saying this about Memorial Day: Is the state in a dramatically different and better place? As I sit here today, I continue to believe it will be,” he said.

When Murphy was asked if he believes we can expect to see a broad reopening by early summer, he said he "would bet, assuming we keep the variants under control, that we will have capacities that will be more liberal."

He also said he believes we will still need face coverings by Memorial Day, especially inside.

Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, the former state epidemiologist and current COVID medical advisor, said there is no one specific metric that will determine how much the state is able to re-open at a particular time. He suggested re-opening is more of a “sliding scale that can go up or down.”

He noted with the warmer weather, more New Jersey residents will be spending more time outdoors, and that, along with increased vaccination rates, will have a significant impact on lowering the metrics.

The governor said his team continues to consider expanding the re-opening process constantly but for the short term, restaurant and gym capacities will remain at 50%.

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