New Jersey’s Fastest-Growing Town Hits 27% Virus Positivity Rate

New Jersey’s fastest-growing town hit 27% positivity among those tested for the novel coronavirus while the state’s overall rate reached its highest since July.

The statewide figure of 3% is highest since July 17, state officials said at a Trenton news conference. Ocean County’s 5.4% positivity rate leads among the Garden State’s 21 counties, and Lakewood is the biggest worry among its towns.

A majority of Lakewood’s population of about 100,000 residents is Orthodox Jewish, like New York City communities where cases also are booming. Many of the faith follow a tradition of big families, and state officials are concerned that close contact during Yom Kippur and other holidays may have worsened the spread of the virus.

Ocean County has led New Jersey’s new-case count for two weeks. Outdoor bars have been cited for not enforcing distancing orders and law enforcement on Sept. 14 broke up hundreds of people partying outside MTV’s “Jersey Shore” house in Seaside Heights.

Most positives are in Lakewood, which Governor Phil Murphy called the state’s fastest-growing town. In recent days, the township has doubled daily testing to 1,000.

“We need to step that up,” said Judith Persichilli, the state health commissioner.

In New York City as of Tuesday, nine zip codes, all with prominent Orthodox Jewish populations, accounted for 25% of cases over two weeks, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In New Jersey, Murphy said he would talk about other virus-fighting strategies for Lakewood later this week. So far, his administration is assigning more contact tracers to warn of potential exposure and working with community and religious leaders to request strict compliance with distancing and masking orders.

Meanwhile, the state reported 43 coronavirus cases linked to 11 schools. The state’s acting schools commissioner, Kevin Dehmer, called the outbreaks “pretty good numbers” among 3,000 schools, and said some remote schools are considering returning to classrooms earlier than planned.

The schools outbreaks, defined as two or more cases, have occurred among students and staff. New Jersey is about a month into its school year, but some cases were traced to August, when school employees started to come together for lesson plans and other tasks.

New Jersey has so far reported 16,122 deaths with a lab-confirmed or probable coronavirus link.

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