NEW JERSEY — Weeks after attending the Last Dance World Series, which concluded in Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that high school sports can stay on track for a fall opening day.

"Some districts have already given notice that their teams will not be playing, as is their right, and we’re not going to overrule them," he said during his coronavirus press briefing this afternoon. "For schools that do play: We don’t want any student athlete to be shut out based on whether or not they’re physically in their school building."

The governor said the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) will soon release guidance for leagues that will plan to play with social distancing measures, face masks and other coronavirus restrictions. 

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State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), who joined Murphy along with Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) said sanctioned sports are a better than any potential "reckless behavior" student athletes may partake in otherwise.

He said allowances will be made for outdoor sports that limit travel and keep students in the state. Coaches will need to hold young athletes accountable for their actions on and off the field and have a system in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

"Although we're not fully out of the woods here today by any means, it is quite encouraging...to discuss some 95,000 student athletes participating in fall sports sanctioned by the [NJSIAA]," Sarlo said. "If we take fall sports away from our young student athletes, I am concerned that they will fill the void with other extracurricular activities that are not sanctioned by the NJSIAA, which is a 100-year-old organization that provides education-based activities backed by school district that can ensure proper health and safety requirements are followed."

Wimberly, who is also the head football coach at Hackensack High School, spoke of the necessity of the bonds created across high school sports leagues. 

"The support of fall sports...I think is paramount at this time," said Wimberly, who is coaching for his 31st season this fall. "At this time with the challenges of COVID-19 nationwide and worldwide, and the racial unrest here in the country, we need that locker room camaraderie to bring our communities back together."

Statewide, four more lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths and 316 new cases were reported as of today. The totals have been updated to 187,767 cases as well as 14,077 deaths (with another 1,849 considered probable). Of the four new deaths, one took place Aug. 11 and the rest between May and July.

On Sunday, there were an additional 10 deaths in New Jersey hospitals, however, they have not been confirmed by labs, Murphy said. 

The rate of transmission (Rt) slightly increased to 1.03. The Rt a pivotal metric that determines how many additional people confirmed COVID-19 patients are infecting.

There are currently 472 people being treated for the coronavirus (208 of which are still under investigation). State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said 91 people are in intensive care and 38 patients currently require ventilators. 

Murphy gave praise to D'Jais Bar and Grill in Belmar, and Bar Anticipation Lake Como over safety protocols carried out over the weekend, which he said were responsible. However, he was critical of Headliner in Neptune City. 

"Anyone here could have spread the virus even before stepping into the bar," he said while referring to Headliner. "We cannot let a bar become the epicenter of a coronavirus flare-up"

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