NEWARK, N.J. — Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season of indoor gatherings amid colder weather. All of the factors will be present to increase COVID-19 numbers, as the pandemic wears on. This year, however, the numbers are noticeably lower than a year ago.
Medical experts said that they’re optimistic that that will remain the case, but caution that it may not take much to have COVID-19 numbers rise significantly again.
Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the president and CEO of University Hospital here, one of the nation’s largest, said there’s a simple reason that Covid virus aren’t spiking the way they began to do around this time last year.
“I do think because we’ve made so much progress with vaccination,” Elnahal said in an interview.
“I do hope that we may see just a little bit of an increase, but nowhere near what we saw last year,” he added.
Dr. Elnahal said that his hospital — which currently has eight COVID-19 patients, down from more than 50 and counting at this time last year — is part of a wider trend.
Across New Jersey’s 71 hospitals at this time last year, more than 1,500 people were hospitalized from the virus, with case numbers rising sharply from there, to mid-winter peaks. Right now, the number of hospitalizations is 675, with the trend flattening.
In the five boroughs of New York City, there were 67 hospitalizations reported a year ago. Now, the number is about a third of that, at 25, and the trend is declining.
As the travel and winter seasons begin, people coming and going at Newark Liberty International Airport who spoke with PIX11 News expressed cautious optimism about the weeks ahead.
Gary Havens was picking up his son from a trip to Sweden.
“I would think that COVID’s not as bad as it was last year,” he said. “And if people just get vaccinated and do the things they need to do, we wouldn’t have to worry about masks and things like that.”
Carla Leitao, who was picking up a relative flying in from Portugal, noted that a year ago things were so bad that no international travelers were allowed into the country.
This past Monday, that ban was lifted, to her delight. Leitao said that she hopes, over the next few months, that COVID-19 will not reach too high of a transmission rate.
“With the vaccines, perhaps it’ll maybe rise a little bit more, but then start coming down by February. That’s what I’m expecting,” she said.
Not everyone agreed with that assessment, however.
A woman who was picking up someone flying in from Kosovo acknowledged that the pandemic situation has improved from a year ago.
However, the woman, who did not give her name, said decreasing rates are not due to the vaccine,
Despite progress, Elnahal warned that COVID-19 is still out there, and can still suddenly increase. He’s seeing unvaccinated people ending up in the hospital almost exclusively, which is why his recommendation for socializing for the holidays is straightforward.
“If you’re vaccinated, you can enjoy the holidays this year just like you always have,” he said. “But if you’re not vaccinated, it will make not only yourself and your loved ones less safe, but everybody less safe.”