Murphy: I’ll be stunned if Omicron variant is not already in U.S.

Gov. Phil Murphy has long touted following the data since COVID-19 pandemic came to the U.S. But when it comes to the Omicron variant, he said he’s more than willing to follow a hunch.

“I’m not the expert, but I’ll be stunned if it’s not already in the United States,” he said Monday, during his weekly pandemic briefing.

Murphy could be correct. The variant, which first was announced this weekend, has been around for weeks and now is reported in more than a dozen countries, including Canada. If it’s not in the U.S., it figures to be here soon.

“The reality is that as our region is a hub of international travel and commerce,” Murphy said. “We must be ready now in anticipation of this variant hitting us.”

What that means isn’t as clear.

“There is still very much unknown about this new variant,” Murphy said. “We are all closely following the research into this variant as it is released, and we are all watching closely as new cases are discovered and reported.”

He later added: “There are probably a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.”

This much is known: 99.9% of the current cases come from the Delta variant — and still are cause for concern, Murphy said.

“We all must keep in mind that that just because there’s a new variant out there doesn’t mean that Delta has lost any of its transmissibility or its virulence,” he said.

The state is still recording more than 1,000 new confirmed cases a day, Murphy said. And while hospitalizations are up sharply over the past several weeks — they were at 950 this weekend — they still are well below where they were a year ago.

On Nov. 28, 2020, there were 2,908 people hospitalized.

“The importance of preventing further spread of Delta, or, we hope, to prevent Omicron from gaining a foothold, is tantamount,” Murphy said. “We strongly encourage everyone to keep masking up when you are indoors and distancing (when) possible.”