PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New Jersey and Pennsylvania health officials are urging people to stay vigilant against COVID-19 and not let their guard down with the holidays upon us. As we head into Christmas and New Year’s, health officials are urging people to stay safe.

There are currently over 6,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state of Pennsylvania — double the peak we saw in the spring. About 20% of them are in the intensive care unit.

So far, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says 41,000 health care workers have been vaccinated. The state wants to ensure every health care worker who wants to be vaccinated will be.

“Our message today to hospitals is to start to reach out and to work together with EMS providers and agencies, as well as other non-affiliated health care providers, and work together to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Dr. Levine said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allocated priority groups 1A, 1B and 1C to determine who will get vaccinated first. Long-term care facility residents are at the top of the list alongside health care personnel.

Meanwhile, there is concern of a new strain of coronavirus with a number of different mutations that health officials say is being investigated.

“The CDC will be working with health departments both state and local to do genetic screenings and markers to find out if those strains are present in the United States,” Dr. Levine said.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy visited health care workers getting their first dose of the Moderna vaccine in Toms River.

To help accelerate the process, the state has partnered with Rite Aid to vaccinate home care and hospice staff.

“The state expects to provide 112,000 first doses of Pfizer for nursing home staff and residents over the next month,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

Murphy says the next week will be critical when it comes to spreading the virus.

“We can’t get lax in our precautions and social distancing, this can’t be the year for large gatherings for Christmas,” Murphy said during Wednesday’s press conference. “I hate saying it. It’s lousy for all of us, but it’s the way it’s got to be.”

Approximately 90 nursing homes in New Jersey are scheduled for vaccination clinics over the next week. Health officials say that number will increase as additional clinics are scheduled.


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