TRENTON, NJ — Bar and restaurant owners across New Jersey will be able to toast this week to the latest expansion on liquor license permits—initially triggered to help businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic while serving outdoors.
This announcement came during Gov. Phil Murphy's COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton on Monday afternoon, where he also announced the latest totals of 221,205 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 14,425 confirmed COVID-19 deaths statewide, including 1,192 new cases and four new deaths on Monday.
The cumulative total in the Township of Livingston also increased on Monday to 593, indicating a total of 44 new cases reported among Livingston residents since Oct. 1, according to the Livingston Health Department. The total number of residential deaths attributed to the coronavirus has remained at 72 since Sept. 1.
According to the governor, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) will extend allowances on serving outdoors for a $10 fee. Initially issued in June ahead of restaurants being allowed to serve customers outdoors, the permits were set to expire at the end of November. Now, many owners in the Garden State are gearing up for new challenges given the dip in temperatures.
“For many of our residents, having the ability to serve liquor to their customers beyond their normal premises has been meaningful," said Murphy. "In some cases life saving, [as it has helped] them survive during these challenging times."
In September, after nearly half a year of forced-closures due to the ongoing health crisis, the state allowed indoor dining, gymnasiums and movie theaters to resume with a 25-percent capacity rule, as well as other safety protocols.
As of Monday, the total number of "probable" deaths was 1,789, and there were also 16 deaths in hospitals on Sunday that are believed to COVID-19-related, according to the governor.
The hospital census is as follows: 758 patients being treated (579 confirmed and 179 “persons under investigation"), 62 people require ventilators and 166 in intensive/critical care.
Five counties in New Jersey confirmed more than 100 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 154 in Ocean, 132 in Essex, 109 in Union, 108 in Middlesex and 103 in Bergen. Counties also reporting caseloads considered to be high were Monmouth with 84, Camden with 75 and Hudson with 78.
"As cooler weather pulls more of us back inside, we must remain extra vigilant," said Murphy, noting that the majority of new cases trace back to private gatherings inside homes rather than the loosening of restrictions on school openings and businesses.
The positivity rate in the state stands at 3.36 percent, with a rate of transmission (Rt) of 1.14.
Although the state’s coronavirus app, which is helping to buffer contact tracing efforts, has been downloaded 205,000 times, the governor hopes more residents will sign up.
According to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, the state began to experience a surge in coronavirus in September. At that point, she said, cases climbed from the high 300s to between 500 and 600 daily. Today and as of late, health officials have confirmed as high as 1,000 cases a day—numbers which mirror nationwide trends.
“Overall, we are seeing more widespread cases throughout the state due to community spread and not any single event or reopening step,” said Persichilli. "I know we are all tired of COVID-19 and all the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of disease and the restrictions we have endured. It is understandable that residents want life to go back to normal.
"But as we approach the holiday season, now is the time to double down on social distancing, wearing face coverings and good hand hygiene... In the coming weeks, our behavior will be critical in shaping how our holidays will be celebrated."
In order to bring number "back down to where they were only a few weeks ago," Murphy urged residents to continue "doing the basics" by wearing a face mask, social distancing, washing their hands frequently with soap and water and staying home when they don't feel well or have been knowingly exposed to someone who has contracted COVID-19.
Anyone who has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, even if they are not showing symptoms, should wait a few days and then get tested, he added.
"As the weather cools, those numbers are not going to change themselves," he said of the recent surge in cases. "Only we can change those numbers."
Murphy also noted that it's "time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and the holiday season" and urged all New Jersey residents to "take stock of how many people" they may be inviting to their Thanksgiving table.
According to Persichilli, small gatherings have proven to be an increasing source of spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
"Last week, the CDC released a study of a family gathering where extended family members stayed in a house together for several weeks," she said. "That led to an outbreak. One adolescent with COVID-19 spread the virus to 11 other family members, including her mother, father and grandparents.
With fall now well underway, Murphy said that the state continues to consider additional indoor re-openings.
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