Four days after Christmas, the surge of the omicron variant and a holiday testing rush resulted in 20,483 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, established through PCR testing, in New Jersey on Wednesday, while statewide hospitalizations for the coronavirus exceeded 3,000 for the first time in 11 months.

With 69 out of 71 hospitals in the Garden State reporting, the 3,273 patients hospitalized as of Tuesday night is the most since Jan. 21, when there were 3,328 people being treated. Wednesday's figure is exactly 600 short of the peak of last winter's surge, when 3,873 patients were hospitalized on Dec. 22, 2020.

Hospitalizations had not been above 3,000 since Jan. 29, according to the state's COVID dashboard.

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Hospitals on 'level red'

In a release Wednesday afternoon, the New Jersey Hospital Association said hospitals in all regions of the state were being placed on "level red," which generally means visitors are restricted except in certain circumstances. The conditions under which visitors might still be allowed were available on the NJHA website.

As a silver lining, state hospitals discharged 441 people in the last 24-hour period measured, the most since 436 live patients were sent home on Feb. 4. But there were 261 patients in need of ventilators, the most since April 19, when that number was 254, and 514 patients in intensive care, a level not reached since the 494 who were in ICU on Feb. 15.

Wednesday Hospitalizations
NJ COVID Data Dashboard
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Thirty-five patients died in New Jersey hospitals in the last 24 hours to be reported, and 50 more confirmed COVID deaths brought the statewide total to 26,118 in the pandemic to date, plus 2,849 deaths listed as probable.

Three hospitals were on full divert status: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick, RWJBH University Hospital Hamilton, in Mercer County, and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton.

Cases hit all-time high ... again

Meanwhile, the more than 20,000 new confirmed cases set another record for the Garden State, far eclipsing the 16,626 positive PCR results reported on Christmas Day. Combined with 6,590 "probable" antigen test positives, a total of 27,073 new positive cases went on the books Wednesday.

It will take some time for the state to officially organize those cases by date of illness onset, as not all the positives reported in Wednesday's update were results that were new as of Tuesday.

The highest number of cases by illness onset date, combining PCR and antigen tests, is currently the 21,077 recorded one week ago, on Dec. 22, although even that number could still change.

The dashboard still shows delta as the dominant variant in New Jersey, both in overall cases sequenced throughout the pandemic and in cases sequenced over the last four weeks, but omicron has been thought to account for as high as 90% of new cases in New Jersey over the second half of December.

Rate of transmission, one of state health officials' most closely-watched metrics, crept up to 1.76 Wednesday, the fourth straight day the Rt pushed above the year's previous high of 1.51 on July 28, when the delta variant was starting to build.

Where's Murphy?

Gov. Phil Murphy's office tweeted out the latest numbers Wednesday, but Murphy reportedly remains on a Christmas vacation in Costa Rica and is scheduled to return Thursday. No new statewide restrictions have been announced, but some individual towns are reinstating public indoor mask mandates.

A Murphy tweet said 2,182,266 vaccine booster doses have been administered. That remains shy of 50% of all who live, work, or study in New Jersey and are currently eligible for boosters.

According to the state, 6,255,364 people have completed a primary vaccination course, consisting of two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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