TRENTON, NJ — With religious holidays approaching and changing guidelines for the use of masks, state officials on Friday urged the public to continue to observe a statewide ban on social gatherings as a means to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The reminders to observe social distancing came during Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily press briefing during which officials reported an additional 4,372 people who tested positive for COVID-19, bringing New Jersey’s total of cases to 29,895. State officials reported an additional 113 people with coronavirus died bringing the death toll to 646 people.
“Social distancing is by far our best preventative measure,” Murphy said. “We said it here yesterday. Yes, you can wear a bandana or a scarf or a simple face covering while you are out but that is not in any way a replacement for social distancing.”
Holy Week begins Sunday, and Passover starts next Wednesday night.
“Normally, many of us would be preparing to congregate for religious services and family gatherings,” said state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. “However, I want to urge the residents to abide by the ban on social gatherings I know this will be difficult.”
Persichilli asked religious leaders to provide their congregations with ways that they can observe services without gathering.
State Police continue to enforce regulations under Murphy’s executive order.
Police have so far issued 79 indictable charges in relation to the executive order, said state Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan.
Last night, these included citing a person in Lakewood for operating a retail clothing store and citing a person at a food establishment in Blairstown for serving customers, Callahan said.
In Newark, city police officers also issued 228 summonses overnight and closed nine business, he said. Additional details on these incidents were not discussed.
Also Friday, Murphy ordered that all flags statewide be lowered to half-staff to honor those who have died from COVID-19 complications.
The new deaths reported Friday, Persichilli said, are as follows:
Hudson County ±16
Bergen County – 14
Passaic County – 11
Union – 11
Monmouth - 10
Middlesex – 8
Ocean – 7
Morris – 3
Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer and Salem counties each saw one new death.
Included in those deaths are Paterson jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli and, in Caldwell, Grover Cleveland Middle School Principal James Brown, Murphy said.
“There is nothing we can say to truly dull the pain that the Brown family or the Pizzarellis are feeling due to the losses,” Murphy said.
Of the 3,016 persons hospitalized who have tested positive for the disease, 1,227 are on ventilators — or 41 percent, Persichilli said, adding that another some 3,000 hospitalized patients remain under investigation for COVID-19.
The figures came as state officials wrangled with limited supplies of personal protective equipment and other supplies essential to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, even as two major suppliers pitched in with donations.
Tito’s Handmade vodka donated 432 gallons of hand sanitizer, 3,000 masks and 2,000 gloves, Murphy said. He also said the global financial services firm, UBS, donated 10,000 N95 masks.
“We are literally going around the world not just around the state or the country in terms of trying to source ventilators and personal protective equipment,” Murphy said.