For the first time since New Year's Day, New Jersey's seven-day average of new positive COVID tests has dropped below 20,000.

It's the latest encouraging sign the omicron surge is slowing. On Sunday, the state reported just over 14,000 new cases.

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The rate of transmission (r/t) has also dropped, now at 1.09. A week ago it was 1.55. Public health officials strive for that rate to be below 1.0.

The total number of people in the hospital either for or with COVID has also dropped below last week's peak of 6,000 to 5,250. On Saturday, 844 patients were discharged and the number of people being admitted is now less than those being sent home.

Surgeries postponed

However, many hospitals are still stressed by the number of COVID patients and staff shortages. Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas Health are postponing some non-elective surgeries for up to three weeks.

A team of U.S. military medical personnel is due to arrive at University Hospital in Newark this week to help deal with staffing issues.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday about the coming nor'easter, Gov. Phil Murphy called the latest numbers encouraging.

"Still not out of the woods," Murphy said. "But all very good signs."

The state's COVID metrics are still substantially higher than they were before 2022 began, with the number of positive tests up more than 350% from December, but much of that can be attributed to a high spike in the number of people getting tested.

With the drop in nearly all metrics, it appears the Murphy administration's dire projections for February may not actually happen. A week ago, state health officials predicted as many as 8,000 could be hospitalized with COVID infections.

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