BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Face coverings when outdoors will now be required statewide, if maintaining six feet at all times is impossible, as New Jersey officials voiced concern with a rise in the COVID-19 transmission rate, as well as travelers returning from states considered virus hot spots and bringing COVID here.
The rate of transmission from a COVID-positive person rose to 1.10 today, Wednesday, July 8, up from 1.03 on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced, which means that every COVID-infected person is infecting more than one other person on average. The rate of transmission has been steadily increasing: on Friday, July 3, the rate was 0.87; on June 15, it was 0.70.
Montclair’s Health Department reported nine new positive cases of COVID-19 between July 3 and July 6. Yesterday, schools district officials postponed graduation after the district was notified of a possible exposure to COVID-19 at several graduation celebration parties held in Montclair.
The governor’s new order, which will be issued in full later today, will require residents to wear masks outside in public situations, like when waiting in line or on the boardwalk. The order also strongly suggests that employees in shared office spaces use face coverings, as well.
The increase in the rate of transmission could be caused by a combination of New Jersey entering stage two of its reopening, and travelers from hot-spot states.
On Tuesday, state officials added three new states to the list of those with significant community spread of COVID-19. Travelers coming from those states into New Jersey are urged to quarantine for 14 days and to get tested. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
“Several outbreaks across New Jersey are directly tied to travel from COVID-19 hotspots nationwide,” Murphy said. “In order to responsibly continue down our road back to restart and recovery, we must remain vigilant in our collective effort to beat the virus and reduce the rate of transmission. I urge those arriving from one of these 19 states to self-quarantine and get a COVID-19 test to prevent additional flare-ups across the state and ensure the health and safety of their fellow New Jerseyans.”
Hot-spot states have a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said local health departments can offer places to self-quarantine for residents who need them. Persichilli said that 14 individuals and a family have sought the help of a place to quarantine.
As for potential masking protests, Murphy said: “If people want to protest something that is saving lives, then OK, but wear your mask and social distance.”
Persichilli pointed to a report by Healthaffairs.org which found that in states that mandate face masks in public, the daily COVID-19 growth rate declined. According to the study, estimates suggest as many as 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases were possibly averted by May 22, by these mandates. The findings suggest that requiring face mask use in public might help in mitigating COVID-19 spread. Fifteen states have mandated masking and the list is growing. Neighboring states include: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York.
Last week, Murphy pulled back on allowing restaurants to reopen indoor dining after states that had reopened indoor dining saw high increases in the spread of the virus. Today, he allowed for restaurant owners who can open up at least two walls of the eatery to serve indoors.
New Jersey officials reported 335 new cases today, July 8, down from the 476 reported on Tuesday. The state total of COVID-confirmed cases as of Tuesday was 174,039.
The number of new deaths reported today is 53, up slightly from Tuesday’s 52. The state death toll as of Wednesday is 15,423 with 13,476 deaths confirmed to be caused by COVID-19 and 1,947 probable deaths from the virus.
The death toll during the virus’ peak reached as many as 400 people a day. Officials noted that the numbers do not reflect the actual date of death, only when they were reported as confirmed COVID deaths.
State health officials also reported a higher positivity rate at 3.23 percent on tests conducted July 4, compared to 2.14 percent for tests conducted on July 2.
Hospitals saw a decrease in the numbers of patients last night at 935, compared to 903 on Monday night. The number of patients in intensive care was at 175 Tuesday night with 142 patients on ventilators, compared to Monday’s numbers of 169 in ICU and 142 ventilators in use.
Essex County reported 18,945 total cases and 1,794 deaths as of Tuesday. The county’s fatality rate from the virus is now at 9.5 percent, compared to the state’s average of 7.7 percent.
Montclair’s Health Department has reported 13 new cases since July 1, bringing the township’s total to 458 as of Wednesday. The township announced an additional death on Tuesday; the total number of Montclair residents who have not survived the illness is now 53.