TRENTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- For the fifth straight day on Monday, New Jersey reported more than 6,000 positive COVID cases.
The state only had 6 days total last winter with more than 6,000 positive cases.
"We are seeing significant increase in cases right now. Yesterday we had the highest number of positive pcr cases, 6,533, that we have seen since January 2021. This surge is most likely due to delta and omicron variants. With cases rising and holiday gatherings and travel, we want everyone to protect themselves," New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.
Another 11 confirmed deaths were reported on Monday. Hospitalizations have more than doubled since last month but remains more than half what it was last December.
Officials continue to stress that vaccinations and boosters offer the best protection against serious illness.
"Quite frankly, with what we know about the omicron variant, if it is time for your booster, get it now," Governor Murphy said.
Demand for testing is also up ahead of the holiday, and lines are long.
One Ridgewood family waited more than an hour past their appointment time at the Paramus test site.
"We actually have a flight to Vancouver that we likely won't make," they said.
Before 11:00 Monday morning, the site ran out of testing supplies. Even after the momentarily pause in operations, it took 2-3hours to get a nasal swab.
The testing site closed at 6:00 p.m. but officials shut down the line hours earlier, saying anyone arriving after wouldn't get tested before closing time.
"We are currently ramping up our level of testing throughout the state and folks should go out to get a free rapid test if they are going to visit others. we currently have more than 100 free and public testing sites throughout the state," Governor Murphy said.
To find a testing site near you, please visit: http://covid19.nj.gov/freetest.
Free at-at home, saliva-based tests are also available. Visit nj.gov/health for more information.
Some places in New Jersey are taking extra precautions. In Newark, Mayor Ras J. Baraka signed an Executive Order requiring face masks while indoors at any public facility amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
Additionally, patrons must be seated and wear masks while at a bar in the city, unless the individual is actively eating or drinking. Additional mitigation measures will be taken if the city's test positivity rate reaches 15 percent or higher for three consecutive test periods, the mayor's office said.
But not everywhere in the Garden State is taking action. Stores were packed inside the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall with no capacity limits or mask mandates. The parking lot was full like it was Saturday.
"Please this week before the holiday, stay home if you are sick and get tested before any holiday gatherings, especially if you have any potential exposure," Persichilli said.
The number of cases in schools are also going up.
"We have seen a number of spikes in the latest reporting period in the number of outbreaks traced to direct in school transmission," Murphy said.
The state will be trying out a 'test to stay' program in schools early next year, allowing students who are close contacts to stay in school by testing negative.
"We are working with the school nurses. We have developed a proposal for a pilot. We are looking at that for the restart after the holiday break," Persichilli said.
State health officials have pointed to the highly transmissible delta and omicron variants, indoor gatherings, holiday travel and waning immunity as fueling the rise in cases.
A small percentage of omicron cases have been detected in New Jersey, though Murphy said it is likely more prevalent in the region. In its latest modeling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that omicron makes up 13% of COVID-19 cases in the New York and New Jersey area, the highest in the nation.
On Sunday night, Senator Cory Booker, who is vaccinated, says he tested positive for the virus.
"I learned today that I tested positive for COVID-19 after first feeling symptoms on Saturday. Fortunately, my symptoms are relatively mild. I'm beyond grateful to have received two doses of vaccine and, more recently, a booster -- I'm certain that without them I would be doing much worse. I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted," said Booker in a statement.
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