‘Stealth’ subvariant driving COVID-19 up in NJ

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | MAY 10, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

July 29, 2021: This image is an updated representation of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and is representative of all current variants.

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New Jersey’s COVID-19 indicators are trending in the wrong direction — upward — due to a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus and dwindling public health protections here and across the nation.

Daily diagnoses and likely COVID-19 cases are at a point not seen in New Jersey since late January. And hospitalizations — a key measure of health care capacity — have been rising for six weeks, state records show. Nine out of 10 cases diagnosed in the past month are tied to the omicron subvariant BA.2, also known as the “stealth variant,” which spreads even faster than its highly transmissible parent strain.

New Jersey is clearly not alone. Nationwide, cases are up 50% in the past two weeks, with the greatest increase in the Northeast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community COVID-19 map shows “high” and “medium” spread throughout New York state and New England, with the northern two-thirds of New Jersey considered “medium” while southern counties remain in a “low” spread zone.

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The one challenger in Newark’s mayoral race battles apathy and a popular incumbent

Published: May. 08, 2022

Hard numbers, past performance, and close observers of Newark politics don’t give Sheila Montague much chance of unseating the city’s popular mayor, Ras Baraka, in Tuesday’s election.

Newark resident Dominick Tortorello, a more casual observer, didn’t even know she was running.

“I’m really not big into politics,” said Tortorello, 42, a utility worker at Montclair State University who had just finished a volunteer shift at the Red Door soup kitchen and food pantry when Montague greeted him as he and a friend walked past her on Halsey Street.

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Mayor Baraka: Who owns Newark? We want to make sure it’s the people. | Opinion

Published: May. 08, 2022

By Ras J. Baraka

A Rutgers' CLiME report shows that in almost half of all residential real estate transactions in Newark between 2017 and early 2020, the buyers were not individuals looking to buy new homes but faceless corporations and LLCs backed by private equity firms. Mayor Ras Baraka says the city will take steps to level the playing field for wanna-be individual homebuyers.
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We learned last week that Newark is leading the country in a category we desperately want to avoid.

The Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME) quantified a disturbing trend that threatens to undo all we have done to make homeownership more affordable for Newark residents and find permanent housing for our homeless residents.

The CLiME report, called “Who Owns Newark?” shows that in almost half of all residential real estate transactions in Newark between 2017 and early 2020, the buyers were not individuals looking to buy new homes or invest in our neighborhoods, but faceless corporations and LLCs backed by private equity firms with economic power to outbid would-be homeowners. The subtitle of the report spells out the problem: “Transferring Wealth from Newark Homeowners to Corporate Buyers.”

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N.J. workers are unionizing at one of the fastest rates in the nation, new report says

Published: May. 07, 2022

The Garden State has seen a resurgence of labor organizing in the service industry over the past two years, according to a new report from Rutgers University.

Researchers at Rutgers’ Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) analyzed federal data for 2019 through 2021 and found that unionization in New Jersey is outperforming 44 other states across the nation, according to a statement released earlier in the week.

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241-Unit Development With Affordable Housing Set-Aside Proposed in Newark

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Roe draft opinion raising fears that more rights will fall

TAYLOR JUNG | MAY 6, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

May 5, 2022: The U.S. Supreme Court behind a fence that was erected this week

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The leaked draft opinion out of the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade continues to draw strong reactions across New Jersey and the country, and it’s not just about abortion rights.

The draft written by Justice Samuel Alito on behalf of an apparent majority of the court calls for the end to federal abortion rights that were written into law for the last half-century. He argues instead that they must be decided by individual states.

Yet in his wording, Alito also appears to take aim at other rights that previous courts have deemed constitutional.

“Roe, however, was remarkably loose in its treatment of constitutional text,” Alito wrote. “It held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.”

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Shoppers caught unprepared, but some show support for N.J.’s new plastic bag ban

Published: May. 04, 2022

One customer walked out of ShopRite holding 20 bananas in his arms. “I completely forgot this was starting,” he remarked on the way to his car to escape the rain. “This is ridiculous.”

A regular at Acme Market strode into her local store with a reusable bag at the ready. ”It’s about time — that’s what everybody is saying, and I agree,” Victoria Laszlow said. “So I got to bring a bag of my own, I get to collect cute bags, what’s the problem?”

Mardel Zuniga, a mother with her children in cart at Walmart, was caught off guard when she arrived at the store to find the plastic bag rollers were empty. “You can buy these for 99 cents,” a store employee periodically announced to customers checking out.

As the ban on single-use plastic bags began Wednesday morning at all New Jersey stores, shoppers had a mixed bag of reactions.

Some were relieved New Jersey was taking more steps toward sustainability. Others said they were frustrated by the new rules or confused at what exactly the ban applied to.

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New Rutgers-Newark Housing Report Finds Alarming Increase in Corporations Buying Newark Homes

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For nonwhite Americans, canceling student debt is racial justice

TAYLOR JUNG | MAY 5, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

For New Jersey school psychologist Norma Reyes, not having to make her student loan payments the last two years has been a “blessing.” While the Biden administration pushed back payments to the end of August and is expected to make a student loan announcement in the coming weeks, the looming and unclear future of her debt is unsettling.

“However, those loans are still there. And it’s very scary for me to know that they’re still there, and to know, OK, what is going to happen when (payments start) over again? So even though it’s been a nice little honeymoon, at the same time I am very afraid of what’s going to happen when I start paying,” said Reyes.

Reyes said the last time she was quoted on a federal loan payment, she was told her payments would be $2,000 per month. When Reyes graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 2013, she owed over $100,000 in federal and private student loans, most of which came from graduate school. She owes more now than she did then because of interest, and her debt caused her to put off buying a house and having a family, Reyes said.

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NJ has strong abortion law, but not necessarily easy access

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | MAY 4, 2022 

NJ Spotlight News

May 3, 2022: Demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the leaking of a draft majority opinion suggests the court is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

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Access to abortion remains a “fundamental right” for anyone present in New Jersey, state officials underscored Tuesday, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s intention to overturn the decision known as Roe vs. Wade.

But that doesn’t mean abortion is easy to access in New Jersey or will be in the future. The costs involved can be high — even for insured patients — and abortion providers are scarce, especially in rural areas, health advocates said. And state lawmakers could tweak or reverse these statutory protections in the future.

New Jersey’s law technically enables women from out of state to obtain abortions here, but experts noted that requires those women to have resources, like child care and travel money. If Roe v. Wade is overturned — as a draft Supreme Court opinion leaked late Monday suggests — women and children are at higher risk for sickness and death, they said, and poor and minority women suffer most. New Jersey is already struggling to address significant racial disparities in health outcomes, particularly when it comes to maternal mortality.

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