Virus fight stalls in early hot spots New York, New Jersey

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A visitor to the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan poses for a photo without wearing a mask in front of a graffiti mural, Friday, March 26, 2021, in New York. A year after becoming a global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, New York and New Jersey are back atop the list of U.S. states with the highest rates of infection. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

ALBANY, N.Y. – A year after becoming a global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, New York and New Jersey are back atop the list of U.S. states with the highest rates of infection.

Even as the vaccination campaign has ramped up, the number of new infections in New Jersey has crept up by 37% in a little more than a month, to about 23,600 every seven days. About 54,600 people in New York tested positive for the virus in the last week, a number that has begun to inch up recently.

The two states now rank No. 1 and 2 in new infections per capita among U.S. states. New Jersey has been reporting about 647 new cases for every 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. New York has averaged 548.

The situation in New York and New Jersey mirrors a national trend that has seen case numbers inch up in recent days. The U.S. is averaging nearly 62,000 cases a day, up from 54,000 two weeks ago.

Asked Sunday what’s going wrong in the U.S. as cases rise, President Joe Biden told reporters: “Based on what I’m hearing, apparently people are letting their guard down.” Biden said he hopes to have a better sense of the situation after a meeting with his White House pandemic team on Monday.

Neither New York nor New Jersey is experiencing anything like what they saw last spring, when hospitals — and morgues — were overflowing. And like the rest of the country, both are in a much better place than in January, at the peak of the pandemic's winter spike.

But the lack of improvement or even backsliding in recent weeks has raised concerns that the states are opening too quickly and people are letting down their guard too much, just as potentially more contagious variants of the virus are circulating more widely.

“When we’re seeing leveling off of cases or increase, that’s when it’s a time to rethink policies,” said Roy Gulick, chief of the infectious diseases division at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.