Indoor gatherings in New Jersey will be limited to 25 people, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday, with the tightened restrictions — which exempt weddings, funerals, religious services, and political events — a response to a rising rate of coronavirus infections and concern over virus transmission at parties.
The state’s transmission rate has risen in the last two weeks and is as high as it was in early April, after cases had begun to decrease, Murphy said; for every person who contracts the coronavirus, about 1.5 other people are infected. The state has traced dozens of new cases to indoor gatherings.
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“We know that there are many more of you who’ve been responsible in your actions, and who’ve taken your civic duties to help us defeat COVID-19 seriously,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, the actions of a few knuckleheads leave us no other course. We have to go back and tighten these restrictions.”
New Jersey’s case numbers looked promising for most of July, the seven-day average dropping to a low of 192 new daily cases on July 22. But since then, that average has inched up, reaching 420 on Sunday, causing officials to sound an alarm.
The state reported 264 additional cases and 10 deaths on Monday. Hospitalizations are continuing to trend down, Murphy said.
New Jersey’s reopening, essentially on hold for the last few weeks, will continue only once the state sees a very low percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive and a transmission rate below one, Murphy said. He suggested he might impose additional restrictions if the transmission rate nears or reaches two, meaning for every person who contracts the virus, two more people are infected on average.
And on Monday, he announced that all New Jersey students will be required to wear face coverings whenever inside school buildings. The guidelines allow exceptions for students with certain disabilities or health issues, but do not allow “mask breaks” except when eating or drinking.
The limit on gatherings will remain in place until the number of new cases drops for a week straight, Murphy said. Under the new rules, weddings, memorials, religious services, and political activities will be permitted to operate at 25% of a venue’s capacity with a limit of 100 people, which was the cap for all indoor gatherings.
From the start of the pandemic, New Jersey has cracked down on people violating various state orders, who can be subject to fines or criminal charges. In the last two weeks, Murphy’s administration has also made public examples of parties that led to coronavirus spread. The governor did not say Monday that he planned increased enforcement, but said the only way “to get to where we want to be” is if “everyone plays by the rules.”
As leaders on Capitol Hill attempted to negotiate a stimulus package after days of stalemate, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he was opposed to offering coronavirus relief funds to cities and states as “bailout” for Democratic governors and mayors.
In Trenton, Murphy called the lack of progress toward getting more federal money for states “discouraging.” He said such funding is needed to keep state workers on the payroll, help small businesses such as restaurants, and provide people with continued unemployment money.
Deborah Birx, the physician who is overseeing the White House’s coronavirus response, said on Sunday the United States had entered a “new phase” of the pandemic where the virus is “extraordinarily widespread” in both rural and urban areas. And in the first states where schools opened for the new academic year, it took only days or hours for some to report students or employees had tested positive for the virus.
Saying that officials were trying to “keep up with the virus,” Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday said reopening schools was a work in progress. He said his administration recognized a need to aid working parents with child care, and he suggested that high school sports may not be safe at schools that do virtual-only learning this fall.
“What happens in the schools should be consistent with what happens on the playing field,” Wolf said. “If the school is going completely virtual, it seems hard to justify in-person contact sports being played in the fall. If the school is going to be opened and feels it’s safe … then that’s a different proposition for contact sports.”
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has said it will resume sports but without fans, in accordance with Wolf’s previous guidelines, which Wolf said Monday were put out when the virus rate appeared to have flattened.
Meanwhile, House Republicans sent letters to Wolf and the PIAA arguing for parents to be allowed in the stands at sports events with “appropriate modifications,” contending that it could be done safely to allow “sports to proceed as normal while, at a minimum, allowing parents of students to watch their loved ones in person.”
Health Secretary Rachel Levine said further guidelines would be released later this week, but she and Wolf did not indicate whether they would issue any official mandates regarding high school sports.
Pennsylvania also granted food safety inspectors the authority to enforce coronavirus safety mandates during their routine inspections at the commonwealth’s restaurants.
Previously, only the Department of Health and local law enforcement had the legal authority to issue written warnings or citations for establishments that weren’t following the state’s pandemic orders.
“This team approach will help ensure our food and those who serve it are safe,” Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said.
The Department of Agriculture’s food safety inspectors regularly conduct random inspections and investigate customer complaints. They will now also enforce the commonwealth’s coronavirus rules, including the recent requirements that restaurants limit indoor capacity to 25%, suspend bar service, and require patrons order meals with alcohol purchases.
Pennsylvania reported 656 new infections on Monday, lowering the commonwealth’s average to 842 new cases a day over the last seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis, and down from over 900 a day last week. At least 7,209 Pennsylvania residents have now died after contracting the coronavirus, with no new deaths reported Monday.
Philadelphia announced 311 new cases Monday, representing test results reported since Friday. The seven-day average of daily total cases was 163 for the week that ended last Monday, according to the city’s data. Test results have often been delayed for several days, making it difficult to determine trends until days later.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, told reporters Monday that he was feeling well and remained confident the NFL would be able to hold its fall season despite the pandemic.
And the Phillies resumed their schedule after a week on hold, traveling to New York City on Monday to play the Yankees in their first game since playing the Miami Marlins, who had a coronavirus outbreak. The Phillies learned Saturday that two of the three employees who appeared to test positive for the virus last week had false positives.
Philadelphia received nearly $4.2 million in federal grant money for homeless services, which will be distributed to 10 organizations focused on outreach and prevention.
The State CARES Emergency Solutions Grants are separate from the $276 million the city received through the federal CARES Act to pay for the response to the pandemic. Among the organizations receiving money are some that serve people experiencing homelessness who are young, LGBTQ, or Latinx.
“The competition both locally and statewide was fierce,” Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services, said in a news release. “These funds give the city a chance to meet some of the unmet but urgent community needs — and bring new voices to the table.”