TRENTON, NJ - Class of 2020, grab your caps, gowns and get ready for the pomp and circumstance of a live graduation ceremony.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced at his daily COVID-19 press briefing today that outdoor graduation ceremonies adhering to appropriate health and safety guidelines can be held beginning July 6.
"We want them to celebrate and be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there," Murphy said in reference to the Class of 2020, which up until now had been anxiously awaiting to hear whether graduation celebrations previously put on hold by the pandemic could move forward.
"Certainly these will be graduation ceremonies will be unlike any other," Murphy said. "The steps we are taking are necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance, but we are equally confident that no one will ever forget the way we will celebrate the Class of 2020. Amen to that."
Murphy said that the state Department of Education and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will issue guidance to local school districts as early as Wednesday outlining specific ways to logistically hold ceremonies and safely limit the capacity of expected attendees. The governor said plans will vary school district by school district, but some by virtue of their size may need to hold multiple events to accommodate all graduates.
"The health data will guide and dictate that," Murphy added.
The governor said today's graduation announcement applies to ceremonies that have been held traditionally at all scholastic levels, not just high schools.
Murphy also announced that professional sports teams that play or train in New Jersey can return to training camps or competitions if ultimately sanctioned by their respective governing leagues. Teams that play and train in New Jersey include the NFL's Giants and Jets, and NHL's Devils, MSL's Red Bulls and NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, which has a training facility i Camden.
"We have been in constant discussions with the teams about these protocols that they will have in place to protect the health and safety of the players, coaches and team personnel. We know they have facilities where proper sanitation and hygiene practices can be readily maintained," the governor said.
While his announcement applies only to professional teams, he is hopeful that he will soon be able to lift the ban on youth sports activities.
"We continue our work with all stakeholders including, if not especially, our youth sports leagues to hopefully see their resumption in the near future," he said.
In an announcement unrelated to the pandemic, but crucial to the improvement of New Jersey's transportation infrastructure, the governor said the Federal Railroad Administration has committed to providing $91.5 million to help replace the century-old Portal Bridge, a vital link along the Northeast Corridor rail line shared by Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT.
"This is a huge win for our state, for our commuters and for the future of our economy, and quite frankly given the economic power of the Northeast Corridor, it's a win for our entire nation," Murphy said. "Replacing the antiquated and unreliable Portal Bridge with a modern and reliable span will mean fewer headaches for commuters and better on-time performance for our mass transit system."
The swing-span Portal Bridge is an on-going source of headaches for system operators and commuters alike as it frequently is unable to fully close after opening for passing boat traffic on the Hackensack River. The entire Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, DC, can be disrupted and cause delays for hours up and down the system when malfunctions occur.
Murphy said COVID-19 trends for hospitalizations, intensive and critical care, and ventilator use all continue to move downward, which are key data points for the recent spate of relaxations to his restrictive executive orders. Over the recent holiday weekend, Murphy said he saw many people out on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights and other spots along the Jersey Shore abiding by guidance to use face coverings and to stay six-feet or more apart from each other.
Murphy reported 703 more positive tests bringing the statewide total to 155,764. He said 2,723 people remain hospitalized, which is down by approximately 1,500 from two weeks ago. Nonetheless, he reported 54 more fatalities from the virus pushing New Jersey's total to 11,191.