TRENTON – The statewide COVID-19 activity level in New Jersey is high for the first time in four months, according to the state Department of Health.

After 21 weeks of rating the state moderate, the weekly COVID-19 Activity Level Report for the period ending Sept. 18 moved the rating to high.

The change reflects an increase in COVID activity in the state’s Southwest region, covering Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties. That area was shifted to high because of an increase in people showing up at emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Last fall, the activity level reached high the week of Nov. 14 and stayed there for 22 of the next 23 weeks, finally returning to and staying at the moderate level the week of April 24.

The CALI report breaks the state into six regions and measures the case rate, positive test rate and COVID-like illness rate. Three regions are now rated high – the Central East, Southeast and Southwest – and the other three are rated moderate.

Nine of those 18 measurements were actually down since the prior week, including the percent positivity rates in all six regions.

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Case rates in the state have been edging higher but only moderately, reflected in the state’s rate of transmission estimated by the health department at 1.04. Roughly speaking, that reflects that COVID infections have been growing by around 4% in the last week to 10 days.

On Saturday, the state health department reported another 2,200 confirmed cases and 494 probable cases. There have been 996,378 confirmed cases reported in the state since the start of the pandemic, and the total is likely to cross the million-case threshold within two or three days.

The COVID Act Now nonprofit coalition says New Jersey’s case rate over the last week amounts to 24.4 cases per 100,000 residents. That is the fourth lowest among the 50 states, ahead of only Connecticut, Maryland and California.

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The state health department reported another 17 lab-confirmed COVID deaths Saturday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 24,550 confirmed and 2,773 probable COVID-related deaths.

According to state-level totals of deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with state population counts from the 2020 Census, New Jersey has the nation’s third-highest COVID death rate since the start of the pandemic.

Mississippi’s death rate surpassed New Jersey’s on Sept. 5. Louisiana’s death rate surpassed it this past Thursday.

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