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N.J. to lower indoor, outdoor gathering limits after record-setting weekend of COVID-19 cases, Murphy says – NJ.com

MORE: N.J. reserves the right to ‘shut everything down’ again to fight COVID-19, Murphy says

New Jersey is lowering the number of people allowed to gather both indoors and outdoors to fight the surging second wave of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday morning, after the state set back-to-back record days for new coronavirus cases over the weekend.

Indoor gatherings will be dropped from 25 to 10 people and outdoor gatherings from 500 to 150 people with Thanksgiving 10 days away and other holidays fast approaching — Murphy’s second tightening of restrictions as cases rise.

“It’s gotten worse and it’s gonna get worse,” the governor said during an appearance on MSNBC. “So we’ve got to be honest with folks. Particularly with cold weather … with the holidays, this is going to get worse. Please God, it doesn’t get to the levels that we saw in the spring.”

The change does not affect the current 25% capacity limits on indoor dining in the state, Murphy said.

Plus, current indoor limits on weddings, funerals, movie theaters, performances, religious services, and political activities — up to 25% of a venue’s capacity, with a maximum of 150 people — will remain, Murphy’s office told NJ Advance Media. Outdoor religious services and political activities will continue to have no limit.

But it does affect indoor parties and other indoor gatherings, such as holiday dinners and events.

“We think those are steps, coupled with some of the other steps we’ve taken, which will hopefully begin to shave these numbers down,” Murphy said of the new limits. “This is a lot of fatigue, it’s a lot of private setting transmission. Particularly with the holidays coming up, we’ve got to plead with people to not let their hair down, to be vigilant, social distance, face coverings, the basic stuff.”

“We’re pleading with people to have a very small Thanksgiving with just your loved ones who you’re living with,” he said during a separate interview on WPIX.

Murphy added that officials will “enforce compliance” whenever they can.

“That’s everything from taking your liquor license away to closing your establishment,” he said. “It’s harder to do if it’s in a private setting, but we’ll do everything we can to enforce compliance.”

And Murphy left open the possibility of installing another statewide lockdown like he did during the first wave in March.

“Do we reserve the right to shut everything down? Sadly, we have to with these numbers,” he said.

Murphy is expected to reveal more during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton at 1 p.m.

New Jersey reported 8,935 cases more COVID-19 cases over the weekend — 4,395 on Saturday and another 4,540 on Sunday.

Both of those figures broke records — but with a caveat. The state’s testing capacity in the spring was about 4,000 tests a daily, while current daily testing ranges from between 15,000 to 55,000 a day, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. That means there were likely many more cases in the spring that went undetected.

The state’s current reports, however, do not include rapid tests. State health officials estimated that including rapid tests could push the new case reports 10 to 20% higher.

There were also 2,115 patients hospitalized in New Jersey with either confirmed or suspected cases as of Sunday night — much lower than the 8,300 patients during the spring peak.

Still, hospitalizations and daily percent positivity are steadily climbing, and officials warn deaths — which so far have not risen at the rate they did in the spring — are likely to increase.

“We have a lot more capacity than we had in the spring,” Murphy said of hospitals. “We know a lot more about this virus than we did in the spring. But the numbers are clearly going in the wrong direction.”

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage

The state has instituted a few other restrictions in recent days to help fight the spread. New Jersey bars and restaurants in the state are now required to close indoor dining between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. each day. Plus, the governor has given local governments the choice to institute 8 p.m. business closings if they want. And all indoor interstate organized sports up to the high school level will be off-limits under the new rules.

Murphy did say schools continue to be a positive point during the pandemic, with 52 cases of in-school transmission in the state out of about 3,000 buildings.

Asked if the state will close schools if numbers reach a certain level, the governor said: “I hope not. Our school experience has actually been a good one so far.”

“Schools, by the way, are a good example of when you prepare properly, you socially distance, you put barriers up, you mandate masking,” he said on WPIX. “That’s the reason why we’re seeing a low level of transmission in schools — because they’re doing it the right way.”

Meanwhile, Murphy met with governors of four neighboring states Sunday to discuss possibly coordinating new restrictions. They did not reveal any new policies Sunday night, but Murphy said there could soon be an announcement on testing and quarantine policies related to college students returning home from college for the holidays.

“We’re gonna try to do as much as we can regionally,” Murphy said during a separate interview on Fox 29. “Our steps may not be exactly the same. But the overall thematic approach is very consistent across the states.”

On a positive note, Moderna announced its coronavirus vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective. That comes a week after competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appears to be about 90% effective. Federal officials hope to have some rollout of vaccines in the new year.

“The vaccine news is really good,” Murphy said. That’s great. But it’s not here yet. We’re in a heck of a fight. This thing is surging, and we’ve got to stay strong.”

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.

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