New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at his regular press briefing on Thursday that the state has received another 10,472 positive COVID-19 test results since Monday. The state received 3,517 positive COVID-19 test results on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state since March to 266,986 cases.
“If we continue on this trajectory, our state will return to the situation we were in last spring,” Murphy said.
The governor said hospitalization levels are at the highest level since early June, with 1,827 COVID-19 patients in New Jersey hospitals. A total of 360 COVID-19 patients in the state were in intensive care Wednesday night, and 117 patients were on ventilators, Murphy said. Another 18 residents have died as a result of complications from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 14,694 people, with another 1,801 residents’ deaths considered “probable” COVID-19 deaths.
“Let these numbers sink in. COVID is not done with us, unfortunately not by a longshot,” Murphy said. “Unless we all recommit to the common-sense measures that got us past the first horrendous months of this pandemic, we are in for a long, dark winter before a vaccine becomes broadly available.”
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said nine hospitals across the state were on divert status in recent days, including Central New Jersey hospitals St. Peter’s, St. Francis, and the Princeton Medical Center. She said none of the hospitals were on full divert status. Some hospitals go on divert status for four hours so they can clear out emergency rooms and make more room for patients, she said. Others go on partial divert status for other reasons, such as psychiatric wings being filled or in one case this week, because of a broken CT scanner.
The COVID-19 test positivity rate is more than 12 percent in New Jersey and is similar in all three regions of the state, officials said. The rate of transmission is 1.3. Any number above one means on average, each infected person is passing the virus on to more than one other person.
Murphy urged residents Thursday not to hold or attend Thanksgiving celebrations beyond the people they are living with. “This is not a year for large family gatherings with loved ones coming in,” he said. “We strongly urge you to have a smaller gathering with just your immediate co-habitant bubble. Anything else, and you are risking your dinner table becoming a COVID hotspot.”
New regulations begin
New regulations for restaurants and bars went into effect on Thursday, and interstate indoor youth sports tournaments and games have been banned indefinitely.
The indoor areas of bars and restaurants must be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m daily. Officials said the restrictions were put in place because people tend to drop their guard and congregate as the night goes on. Indoor seating during operating hours must now be at tables and not at bar areas because officials are concerned about the tighter seating in bar areas. Restaurants can maintain up to 25 percent capacity indoors as long as tables are separated by dividers that meet state health department regulations, Murphy said. People can also be seated in heated dining bubbles outdoors, but groups of diners must be segregated. Outdoor dining, carry out, and delivery are all still allowed after 10 p.m.
Murphy issued an executive order Thursday giving municipalities and counties the authority to regulate the operation of non-essential businesses after 8 p.m. daily to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The only other area where municipalities and counties have the authority to create their own regulations is in regulating local park and playground closures and hours.
“Our approach to this second wave is to act surgically within hotspot areas, and that means giving local officials the ability to take actions to prevent local hotspots from becoming covid wildfires,” Murphy said. “Other municipal or county actions that differ from state rules are not allowed — restrictions on businesses, gatherings, and capacity. We simply cannot have a patchwork of rules where certain businesses are entirely shuttered in one town but not the other, especially in New Jersey, the densest state in America. That would lead to individuals traveling to other communities and potentially spreading COVID.”
Murphy noted that a new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature this week concluded that indoor venues like restaurants and gyms accounted for about 80 percent of new infections in the early months of the pandemic. The study is based on mobility data from 98 million cell phones.
Data on the spread of COVID-19 and youth sports
The governor also announced an interstate compact between seven states prohibiting interstate youth hockey tournaments and games because of the second coronavirus wave. The states that are a part of the compact: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The compact prohibits indoor interstate sports competitions in the states and teams in the states competing out of state. Murphy said he hopes to add other states to the compact. He said though COVID-19 may not spread from the sports activity itself, “adjacent activity” is contributing to the spread of the virus.
Persichilli said officials have looked at new cases and the hospital census and have traced some cases to recent gatherings. Many of them were Halloween parties. The Halloween parties led to at least 70 cases, including 30 cases from a single party in Union County and nine cases linked to a party in Somerset County.
The health commissioner also added to Murphy’s comments about youth sports, saying they continue to be a challenge. Since the beginning of Oct., 14 outbreaks have been linked to hockey teams in seven counties, including Somerset and Mercer counties in the Central New Jersey region. These outbreaks have been linked to more than 70 cases, she said.
Statistics from March 20 to Nov. 1, excluding long-term care facilities, healthcare facilities, and schools, show how the virus was spread in the state, Persichilli said. For that period, for 164 outbreaks that were traced, 17 percent of the cases were related to sports teams, 13 percent were related to parties, 12 percent were related to daycare, and 10 percent were related to the workplace. But for the period from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1 for 51 outbreaks that were traced, 33 percent were related to sports teams.
Persichilli said there were another 15 outbreaks in schools in the state over the past week that led to at least 46 infections. There have been a total of 51 instances of school outbreaks and 192 cases so far this fall, she said. “All in all, while we fully expected and prepared for instances of in-school transmission, these numbers are a sign that preparations to mitigate in-school spread are working,” she said.
Murphy repeated comments he had made the previous day on television that in spite of rumors, the state currently is not planning on shutting down schools again. He said the New Jersey Department of Education is working to make sure more students have devices and wireless connectivity. In August, 231,000 students lacked a device or connectivity. Murphy said 40,000 students now lack a device or connectivity.
Murphy urged residents to wear masks, citing a new CDS study that shows that masks offer a stronger measure of protection than was previously thought. Masks not only protect others, it has now been shown that they also protect the mask wearer.
A reporter asked the governor to comment on the fact that many people find wearing masks uncomfortable and are either not wearing them, or wearing them below their noses.
“You know what’s really uncomfortable and annoying?” Murphy said. “When you die.”
Murphy said the state is prepared to fight the second wave and is much better equipped with much greater testing capacity, but said efforts can’t be successful without residents recognizing their responsibility in the fight.
“We cannot let up on social distancing, on wearing masks, or on practicing strong hand hygiene,” he said. “We have to get back to the mindset that saw us crush the curve throughout the spring. Look at all the places where and ways in which this virus is spreading. We can get a hold of this if we can get back to what worked in the spring, and stick to it.”