TRENTON, NJ – As end-of-summer parties give way to welcome-back-to-college keggers, the cases of COVID-19 among New Jersey’s youngest populations are on the rise.

Residents in the 19-24 age range now represent the highest percent positivity rate in the state, according to State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

About 6% of those ages 19 to 24 are COVID-19-positive and those ages 14 to 18 are right behind them, at 4% positivity.

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Persichilli, speaking during Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing on Friday, said the rise in these cases started in August, about when members of her department began hearing anecdotal reports of parties attended by college students who remotely studying from off-campus apartments.

She seemed to be alluding to incidents such as last week’s the party near Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus where 100 or so college-aged revelers played loud music until the city’s police broke things up.

Persichilli urged them to stay six feet apart, wear face coverings, wash their hands and do the other things that have led to the incidence of COVID-19 to fall or level off in all other age ranges in New Jersey.

The problem is that the younger population may not experience symptoms, but “they can spread the virus to more vulnerable populations, especially those who live in the same household, such as elderly grandparents or parents with underlying medical conditions,” Persichilli said.

She said there have been no reports of transmissions at any of the state’s elementary, middle or high schools.

The news about the rise in COVID-19 cases comes as New Jersey’s attempts to use contact tracing to minimize outbreaks continue to be thwarted.

Murphy announced that the state has added 66 new contact tracers, bringing the total to more than 1,800 across New Jersey.

However, he said 18% of those called by contact tracers don’t answer the phone, and 59% of those reached refuse to provide further contacts.

“People don’t want to rat out their friends because they’re concerned for their friends’ welfare,” Persichilli said. “Will they have to leave work? Will they have to quarantine for a few weeks? Who will feed their kids? Will they be taken care of? It’s both (that) they just don’t want to give the names, and some real reasons because of quarantine measures.”

To allay residents’ fears, Persichilli said that contact tracers are trained to offer additional support, including help with housing, shelter, job protection and child-care services.

The state announced Friday 518 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative total of confirmed cases to 195,888.

The most recent positivity rate is 2.6% and the rate of transmission, or the average number of people infected by each infectious person, is at 1.08.

The state reported 240 confirmed cases in its hospitals with 242 cases awaiting test results.

There are 81 patients in intensive care and 46 using ventilators

The state reported nine new deaths, raising the death toll to 14, 234 with an additional 1,789 probable deaths.