NEW JERSEY — Indoor gatherings will be subject to new capacity limits in New Jersey starting Tuesday - the most aggressive steps Gov. Phil Murphy has taken in the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. 

As of Tuesday, no more than 10 people may gather indoors (includes indoor entertainment venues). A 150-person limit will also take effect for outdoor gatherings beginning Nov. 23. The following are exempted from the rule and instead must follow a 25% cap/or up to 150 people: religious services, political events, weddings, funerals, memorials and movie theaters.   

The measures are being reinstated following the Garden State’s largest tallies ever - since the virus first showed up in New Jersey 257 days ago - on Saturday (4,395 new cases) and Sunday (4,540). 

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“Our highest case counts are now no longer from when this virus first began rampaging across our communities. They have come now, when we are grappling with pandemic fatigue and when we know people have begun to let their guards down,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during his Monday coronavirus press briefing in Trenton. “What we're doing today, we know will cause some people to readjust their Thanksgiving plans and I understand why there might be frustration with this step…we've been saying for weeks that this will not be a normal Thanksgiving.”

Indoor practices or competitions can go over the 10-person cap but only for people deemed necessary (players, coaches, referees). If that limit is exceeded, spectators will not be allowed in.

'Sobering' COVID-19 figures

The governor reported an additional 2,232 positive coronavirus cases (total of 281,493) and 14 deaths (14,779 confirmed and 1,801 “probable”). In the last four days, NJ added 14,566 cases - or 4% of the cumulative total) - including 3,399 on Friday, 4,395 on Saturday and 4,540 on Sunday. 

The positivity rate is 9.43%, with a rate of transmission at 1.40. There are now 2,115 hospitalizations, a number Murphy said is expected to worsen, as well as 27 patients, who died in hospitals Sunday but still considered persons under investigation. Of the total number of patients, 417 were admitted to the intensive care unit and 137 required ventilators. 

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said four hospitals are in divert status, meaning that due to volume incoming patients are sent to other hospitals. 

Murphy said indoor parties, ice hockey and young people's lack of compliance are contributing to the rise in the surge across the state of nine million. Newark, he noted during the briefing, is considered ground zero for the second wave of the virus. 

About a week after indoor dining curfews were ordered, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) with help from state and local law enforcement members inspected 104 establishments in Camden, Essex and Hudson counties over the weekend.

Of those, 15 were cited for “what appeared to be” executive order violations, according to State Police Superintendent, Col. Pat Callahan.

“ABC will continue making these checks throughout the week,” Murphy said. “Folks should expect that this is the first wave...of a sustained effort."

More details on the businesses will be released once the citations are fully processed, Callahan said. 

Contact tracing is still encountering uncooperative residents, with 60% of call receipts refusing to fully help. 

While a vaccine has not been released, Murphy said one or multiple vaccines could be ready for wide-scale distribution in "just a matter of a few months." He reiterated that although the virus could be brought under control to some degree by the spring of 2021, New Jerseyans need to continue to take coronavirus safeguards between now and the start of the new year in order to save lives. 

Holiday preparations at long-term care facilities  

State epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan confirmed 24 new COVID-19 outbreaks at New Jersey nursing homes on Monday alone. There currently 241 active outbreaks across the state.

“The department strongly recommends against families taking residents out of [long-term care] facilities for holiday celebrations or gatherings,” Persichilli said. “Individuals at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid gatherings with individuals that they don't live with."

The health commissioner said while outdoor visits are one option, the facilities should plan to accommodate residents with “virtual communications” during the holidays. The New Jersey Department of Health will release guidance later on Monday for nursing homes to prepare and protect the vulnerable population.

She previewed some health protocols and suggestions during her portion of the press conference:

  • Residents that leave the facilities for family celebrations must be quarantined on their return
  • If a resident lives in a private residence or room, the resident may be quarantined there
  • If the resident has a roommate, the resident should be quarantined in a separate observation room for 14 days
  • If an observation room is not available in the facility, the facility must notify the rest of the family that the resident will not be permitted back until the room is available or until the facility is otherwise able to separate returning residents in compliance with current CDC and Department of Health guidance and directives
  • Long-term care facilities need to develop a plan for holiday visits
  • As part of that preparation, they need to estimate how many residents can be separated for a 14-day quarantine period, based on their current census and their projected census from Nov. 25 through to Dec. 31
  • Facilities should create a reservation process for residents to want to leave and visit families for the holidays
  • Reservations should be tied to the number of individuals the facility can quarantine on their return
  • Reservations and any changes to reservations must be confirmed 36 hours before the resident leaves the facility
  • Facilities should create a waiting list for residents who request a reservation after the established limit has been reached and residents and families should be informed of the possibility that if a resident leaves without a reservation or on the waiting list, that may not be guaranteed readmission to the facility until the bed is available
  • Residents and families must certify that they are aware of the dangers of exposure to COVID-19 

Besides following face mask, social distancing and hand hygiene rules, Persichilli said if families learn of positive COVID-19 test results or someone with coronavirus-like symptoms, they must notify the facility. 

The governor’s coronavirus briefings will return to three days a week, with his next virtual briefing set for Wednesday at 1 p.m. 

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