Covid Swab
A National Guard member swabs a person’s nose at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial. Photo credit: New Jersey National Guard

The US has passed the first year in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, one marked by social distancing, mask-wearing, and endless sacrifices. The apprentices in WhoWhatWhy’s Mentor-Apprentice Program documented the changes that continue to shape life in their hometowns, offering a unique snapshot of the spread of the coronavirus to date and the efforts made to overcome it. Here are their stories:


Despite the cold temperatures that recently left much of the Garden State buried in three feet of snow, New Jersey residents are eager to line up for their COVID-19 vaccine. Since the distribution of vaccinations began, new COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen by almost 50 percent, while the infection rate has decreased by 30 percent. 

At a press briefing on February 12, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said there were 2,370 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state (compared with 3,621 cases on December 14, just before vaccinations began) and a statewide transmission rate of 0.81 percent (compared with 1.13 on December 14). Transmission rates below 1.0 mean the virus is no longer spreading quickly at a one-to-one rate; for comparison, the state’s transmission rate was 1.35 in August, near the peak of the pandemic, according to the Star-Ledger.

Hospital workers and residents of veterans and nursing homes were the first to be vaccinated back in December 2020; the state’s six megasite vaccination hubs began vaccinating the public at the end of January.  

“It is not at the point where our megasites in particular can operate to the capacities to which we have purpose-built them,” said Murphy. In mid-February, a million more vaccine doses were expected to be administered with dedicated vaccination centers scheduled to open in communities disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Given these advances in vaccine distribution, Murphy expressed cautious optimism about stopping the spread of the virus in New Jersey altogether. That being said, continued COVID-19 testing and mask mandates will be critical to the state’s success in overcoming the virus. 

The takeaway? Sixteen out of 1,000 New Jerseyans are currently receiving vaccinations and only two of the state’s 21 counties have more than half of their residents vaccinated, according to an NJ Spotlight tracker. However, 70 percent of New Jerseyans will need to be fully vaccinated in order for herd immunity to set in, indicating a long road ahead before the state is completely out of the woods.

Sources: Governor’s office press-briefings (all stats and calculations are from numbers released during these briefings)

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