By Stephanie Stahl

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — New Jersey now has the highest levels of COVID-19 transmission, joining many southern states. Pediatric cases locally and nationally are soaring just as students are about to go back to class.

There are currently a record number of children hospitalized with COVID-19, most haven’t been vaccinated, and that’s the big concern with school about to start — will students spark a fall surge?

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The CDC transmission map now shows all but two counties in the Garden State with the highest levels of COVID-19, shown in red. The seven-day average is up 435% from a month ago.

“This is a pandemic of unvaccinated persons,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Murphy gave another urgent plea for more people to get vaccinated with a renewed focus on getting schools open safely with the new inside mask mandate.

“We’re not willing to surrender our kids to this virus unlike those opposed to this common sense plan,” Murphy said.

New Jersey, like the rest of the country, has an increase of infected and hospitalized children and teenagers.

“We’re seeing that increase flow so we’re very concerned this Delta variant is very contagious,” Dr. Martin Topiel, with Virtua Health, said.

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Dr. Topiel says the Delta variant is quickly striking unvaccinated children.

“We’re concerned about this fall for sure,” Dr. Topiel said.

The Brubaker family, of Cherry Hill, had a close relative seriously sick with COVID prompting them to get 12-year-old Quinan vaccinated as quickly as they could.

“I didn’t really want it at first but still got it because I knew it would help me and help other people from not getting COVID,” Quinan said.

His mom, Allison, is worried about so many people and children not being vaccinated, especially those under 12 who aren’t eligible — that includes her 9-year-old daughter.

“She can get really sick and God forbid, give it to my parents, husband’s parents again,” Allison said. “It’s very concerning, very concerning for us.”

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Masks will be required inside all New Jersey schools and many other districts are also mandating face coverings. But doctors are worried that might not be enough since so many students are still not vaccinated there’s a risk for outbreaks.

Stephanie Stahl