By Stephanie Stahl

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — COVID-19 cases in New Jersey are down significantly, but deaths are increasing and there are new concerns about young children getting severely sick with the virus.

COVID-19 numbers are moving in the right direction in New Jersey, and it appears the state has passed the peak of the omicron variant, but the governor says — precautions are still important.

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“Cases are down by roughly two-thirds,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Some encouraging words on COVID-19 from Murphy.

New Jersey is among a handful of states with improving numbers. Over the past two weeks, cases in New Jersey are down 61% and hospitalizations dropped 14%, but deaths are up 67%.

“We believe we’re on the backside of omicron,” Murphy said. “We are not free of it.”

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There are renewed concerns about children under the age of 5, who are too young to be vaccinated. There have been four COVID-19 related deaths of children in New Jersey, including three infants since Christmas.

“We must remain vigilant as this pandemic has taught us, the virus continues to test our health care system and can cause severe consequences among children, a reminder that COVID-19 isn’t always a benign illness in children,” Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

Officials say getting more people vaccinated and boosted will help protect children by reducing overall infection rates, but only half of the people eligible for booster shots in New Jersey have received them.

“The good news, the numbers are getting better,” Murphy said. “The bad news is it probably makes it more people difficult to convince to get boosted because they’re thinking, ‘hey, we’re getting out of the woods.’ However, again, we want to say no one should be complacent here, even though these numbers are trending positively and they are. They’re still higher than anything we have encountered even through last winter’s surge and the delta variant surge from last summer.”

The governor added that people in New Jersey who received their booster shots were three times less likely to be hospitalized, compared to people who were not boosted.

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Another indication of this new positive trend, cases of COVID-19 among students in New Jersey were down 40% last week and even more for school staffs.

Stephanie Stahl