New Jersey set a record for new COVID infections for a third straight day on Friday, announcing 15,630 additional confirmed cases as a late-year surge continued to wreak havoc ahead of Christmas.
The new cases eclipsed Thursday's record of 15,482, itself a big jump over Wednesday's 9,711, according to state Department of Health data.
Confirmed cases have skyrocketed this week as the highly contagious omicron variant raced through the population and residents rushed to get tested ahead of travel plans and holiday gatherings. Many spent the week rambling through long lines and high waiting times at testing sites around New Jersey.
Reported hospitalizations also rose on Friday, to 2,366. That was still a far cry from the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 when admissions surpassed 8,000 a day and hundreds were dying. Twenty-seven COVID deaths were reported on Friday.
While case numbers are climbing, comparisons are tricky as testing options were more limited earlier in the pandemic. It's also unclear how much omicron is driving the latest increase, since state data on particular variants typically lags weeks behind the daily case numbers.
Whatever the cause, ripples of the surge could be felt across the state. Dozens of flights were delayed and canceled at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, as labor shortages due to increased infections compounded weather problems for airlines.
More than 2,500 commercial flights were canceled Christmas Day, according to FlightAware. A large share of the flights, more than 1,000, were canceled by Chinese airlines. About 300 were canceled by Delta, 250 by United and another 125 by JetBlue, the flight tracking website reported.
Another nearly 5,000 flights in the U.S. were delayed.
Christmas Day is one of the lightest travel days of the holiday travel rush. JetBlue is also having issues: 72 Christmas Eve flights were canceled, or 7% of its scheduled flights.
Delta said late Friday morning that it expects the cancellations to continue into Sunday, a busy travel day ahead of the new work week.
In Morristown and Newark, officials announced indoor masking and vaccination requirements to try to limit the spread. Meanwhile, RWJ Barnabas, one of the largest healthcare systems in the state, said it will limit patient visitors in its hospitals and other medical facilities starting Sunday.