CAMDEN, NJ — With New Jersey’s rate of transmission (Rt) nearly doubling in a month - from 0.87 in early July to 1.48 today — Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that he will again tighten caps on indoor gatherings.
“We believe that some of this increase is attributable to the number of indoor house parties and other events which we have been seeing across the state… As we warned on Friday we would not hesitate to take direction to further clamp down on indoor gatherings,” Murphy said during his coronavirus press briefing this afternoon at the George Washington Ballroom in Trenton.
Indoor congregations must remain at 25% of a room’s capacity — with an overall 25-person limit (down from 100). Outdoor gatherings remain capped at 500 people — with safety mainstays still in place like social distancing and face masks.
“This change importantly will not apply to weddings, funerals and memorial services, [as well as] religious and political activities protected under the First Amendment, which may continue under the current rules," he continued.
Murphy stressed that indoor parties or gatherings must not exceed 25 people.
The state’s Rt indicates that every positive case of COVID-19 is currently leading to more than one additional case.
The last time the Rt was this high was early April when there were roughly 300 to 400 probable coronavirus deaths every day.
It would need to “drop appreciably” over at least seven consecutive days in order for restrictions to be lifted, officials said. Would the transmission rate remain at this level for a lengthened period of time, Murphy said it would "lead to more action." Although he did not go into detail, he said he imagines it would lean toward enforcement instead of policy.
An additional 10 coronavirus-related deaths as of Monday brings New Jersey’s death toll to 13,971 (1,875 probable). The governor also announced 264 more positive test screenings, bringing the total to 182,614.
“Over the last week, we saw numbers of new cases that we hadn’t seen in eight weeks. Our rate of transmission is now more than double where it was a few weeks ago,” the governor’s Twitter page posted during the press conference. “Everyone needs to get it together — and fast. This is not yet past us.”
According to state health officials, there are 738 hospitalizations, with 144 people in intensive care and 49 on ventilators.
When asked by a reporter whether the latest figures mean the Garden State has entered the second wave of the pandemic, Murphy said, “I don’t think we’ve ever graduated out of the first wave.”
Dr. Christina Tan, State Epidemiologist, added that although the state may be on the "opposite side” of the first wave, until more data is gathered and the year progresses it is difficult to determine NJ’s COVID-19 baseline.
In response to steps taken by some restaurants struggling to remain open, the governor said that unless eateries have at least two of four outer walls, “you cannot seat and serve diners inside your premises. You can only serve diners outdoors.”
The governor elsewhere praised Airbnb for suspending and removing 35 “problem properties” linked to house parties. He also said he intends to sign an executive order allowing public employees to enroll for the State Health Benefits Plan as soon as they’re hired instead of waiting 60 days.
The governor is expected to provide another coronavirus update during a press conference Wednesday at noon.