by LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

The novel coronavirus variant first seen in the United Kingdom has hit Essex County.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday New Jersey is now up to eight cases — two in Essex County, two in Morris County and four in Ocean County. State officials reported the first two known cases last week — one of an Ocean County resident with no recent travel history or known exposure to people who were ill, and one of a young traveler in northern New Jersey.

Persichilli hasn't said in which county the young traveler had spent time, but that person tested positive Jan. 11 in New York City.

Those identified with the new variant are ages 10 to 65. One of those patients has died, Persichilli said. That person had "significant underlying conditions," the health commissioner said.

New Jersey plans to update its online coronavirus dashboard to include reporting on the new variant shortly.

Eddy Bresnitz, a former state epidemiologist and COVID-19 adviser to New Jersey, said while early scientific literature seemed to suggest the new variant was more contagious, but not more deadly than the coronavirus that first hit New Jersey a year ago, "I think the jury is still out on that."

So far, Persichilli said, it's unclear where and how the eight identified patients with the UK variant were exposed, or how much risk there is of community spread, though contact tracers will attempt to make those determinations.

Highly transmissible variants of the virus seen in Brazil and South Africa haven't yet been identified in New Jersey, Bresnitz said.

Getting your second dose

State officials continue to chase down issues scheduling second doses of coroanvirus vaccines, after a so-called "mega-site" at the Rowan College of South Jersey failed to do so for patients who booked their first doses directly with the location.

Persichilli and Gov. Phil Murphy had been urging all sites distributing coronavirus vaccine to schedule second doses before residents check out of locations after receiving their first. Both the Pfizer and Moderna coroanavirus vaccines are intended to be given in two doses, about three weeks apart — and are considered far less effective with only one dose.

But that didn't happen at the Gloucester County mega-site and some other locations, state officials said this week.

Murphy advised residents who've had first doses:

• If you scheduled a vaccine through the state's own registration system — used by many, but not all distribution sites — your second appointment should have been automatically scheduled, and you'll get an email with information.

• If you booked directly through the Gloucester County mega-site, officials from that site will reach out to you to schedule a second dose.

• If you booked with another site and still haven't confirmed a schedule for a second dose, reach out to that site directly.

• And beginning Sunday, the state's new vaccine hotline, at 855-568-0545 will be able to help schedule second doses.