TRENTON, NJ — With New Jersey’s COVID-19 rate of transmission (Rt) nearly doubling over the last month—from 0.87 in early July to 1.48 on Monday—Gov. Phil Murphy announced caps on indoor gatherings have been tightened once again.

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 in early April, when there were roughly 300-to-400 probable coronavirus deaths every day in New Jersey, Murphy said. 

“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," the governor said during his COVID-19 press brief on Monday. "As we warned on Friday, we would not hesitate to take direction to further clamp down on indoor gatherings."

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Indoor congregations must remain at 25 percent 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, including social distancing and face masks.  

Murphy stressed that indoor parties or gatherings must not exceed 25 people.

“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," said Murphy. 

According to state officials, the Rt would need to “drop appreciably” over at least seven consecutive days in order for restrictions to be lifted. Should the Rt 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," he posted on his Twitter page Monday. "Our rate of transmission is now more than double where it was a few weeks ago. 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 as of Monday.

Dr. Christina Tan, State Epidemiologist, added that although the state may be on the "opposite side” of the first wave, it will be difficult to determine New Jersey’s COVID-19 baseline until more data is gathered and the year progresses.

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, restaurants "cannot seat and serve diners inside [their] premises.”

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 are hired rather than needing to wait 60 days.

Murphy is expected to provide another coronavirus update during a press conference Wednesday at noon. 

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