TRENTON, NJ — Marking the milestone of six months since the confirmation of the first coronavirus case in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy kicked off the holiday weekend by signing an Executive Order to allow for the resumption of indoor dining, albeit at 25 percent capacity. The order also allows for movie theaters and other indoor entertainment businesses to open, limited to 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of 150 people.
Indoor gatherings, including religious services or celebrations, political activities, wedding ceremonies, funerals, or memorial services can be held at 25 percent capacity with a maximum of 150 people, up from a maximum of 100 people. House parties may have a maximum of 25 people.
Murphy, at Friday's press conference, said he attended the graduation ceremony of the 160th New Jersey State Police Class earlier in the day at Arm & Hammer Stadium, home of the Trenton Thunder. Of the 209 recruits, there were 165 graduates.
"They went through the most extraordinary training of any State Trooper class ever," the Governor added, and noted the class is at a near all-time high for diversity.
New Jersey ranks second in the nation, Murphy said, in Oxfam's Best States to Work index that ranks how states and territories are supporting residents during COVID-19. It analyzes three policy areas: worker protections, health care, and unemployment support. Oxfam works to end the poverty injustice.
"Throughout this pandemic we have protected tenants from the threat of eviction, and worked with our utilities to prevent service disruptions and shut-offs. We have expanded food support and supports for childcare, especially for essential workers," according to the governor. "And some of the steps that earned us this placement are ones we took several years ago — and not because we ever thought of their value in a global pandemic — but simply because they were the right thing to do, including things like guaranteed paid sick days for all and expanded paid family leave."
He said New Jersey has taken tremendous steps to make healthcare more accessible, and more affordable for residents. He said the state level health exchange will go online on November 1.
"We’re not spiking any footballs," but Murphy said the ranking comes with the gratification and satisfaction that New Jersey is going in the right direction.
The governor pivoted to education, and school reopening plans. As of yesterday, he said, the Department of Education has received 804 plans from districts, charter schools, and schools for students with disabilities. Of these, 607 plans were complete, 180 were returned for revisions, and 17 have not yet been reviewed.
Among the 607 finalized reopening plans, 354 schools will open using hybrid in-person and remote learning, 172 will use all-remote learning, 59 will use all in-person learning, and 22 will use a combination of plans.
"It’s a school year unlike any other. Please know, folks, don't expect normalcy. Or at least an old normalcy.”
Commissioner of the Department of Health Judy Persichilli outlined guidelines for schools that report positive cases, detailed below.
On contact tracers, another 66 have been added to the network, bringing the total to 1,769. The statewide average is 19.9 tracers per 100,000 people. Murphy said, "We're well on our way to our goal of 30 per 100,000." Only Atlantic County has reached the initial benchmark of 15.
The governor noted more than half of those people contacted continue to refuse contacts for follow-up. He said contact tracers only care about protecting public health. "We cannot get ahead of this virus if you don't work with our contact tracers."
Overnight numbers show 478 positive tests, with a cumulative total of 193,422. The spot positivity rate is 1.81%, as of August 31. The rate of transmission has crept up to 1.03 as of September 2.
There are 466 hospital patients, with 249 positive cases, and another 217 under investigation pending test results. There are 95 in intensive care, with 40 ventilators in use. Seven new deaths are reported, brining the statewide total to 14,195; the number of probable deaths stands at 1,783.
Persichilli said, "With schools, gyms, restaurants, and other reopenings occurring, having a strong network of contact tracers is more important than ever to contain the spread of COVID-19."
She said 71 percent have spoken to contact tracers, up from 61 percent in the beginning of August. But the number of people who do not answer the call hovers around 20 percent, she noted. "And more disappointing, the number of people who have refused to provide contacts of potential cases to follow up has risen to 53 percent."
In other news, the Office of Attorney General revoked the liquor license of Il Portico in Burlington City for executive order violations stemming from a large, unruly gathering on July 4 that exceeded 500 people.
With the resumption of indoor dining, Murphy said, "let this be a warning to everybody out there. The limits we have placed on capacities, and the public health protocols we have put in place, are not kind suggestions. They are mandated, they are required. We will not tolerate any violations, and will not be afraid to come down hard and make an example of those who think the rules don't apply to them."
The Governor also announced administrative action to prohibit smoking in indoor casinos, saying after consultation with health officials, it is too great a risk to take.
On the 2020 Census, Murphy said New Jersey is well on the path to beating the response to the 2010 Census. The self-response rate is currently at 67.3 percent, while the final response rate a decade ago was at 67.4 percent. Census takers are going door to door, and more than 84 percent of New Jerseyans have now been counted. There are only 26 days left to respond. "It's quick, it's important, it's your civic duty, and we need you to do."
Gov. Murphy encouraged everyone to take a moment on Monday, to reflect on the true meaning of Labor Day. "Let's remember the women and men of organized labor who have fought, and continue to fight, for fairness, respect, and justice for fair wages, affordable healthcare, and safe workplaces.
The next in-person press conference will be held on Tuesday at 1 p.m.