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COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a July 27 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Gov. Phil Murphy pleaded with party hosts to be responsible when hosting gatherings, after a graduation party in Middletown is suspected of contributing to a local increase in cases, and after police in Jackson broke up a 700-person party over the weekend. 

In Middletown, 65 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in recent days. Of those, 52 are in teens aged 15 to 19. 

Murphy said it took local police five hours to break up the party in Jackson, and that police were called after residents reported more than 100 cars outside the party venue. 

“We’re begging you, please be responsible at your homes if you’re holding a gathering,” said Murphy at Monday’s debriefing.

Murphy urged hosts to hold their gatherings outside, within capacity limits, to have attendees wear masks, and to maintain social distancing. 

New Jersey’s overall virus transmission rate has now exceeded 1.0 again. The virus transmission rate has generally stayed below 1.0 since April, but on July 17, a transmission rate of 1.1 was reported. The rise could be due to labs catching up on a backlog of tests, health officials voiced concerns that events such as over-capacity parties were contributing as well. 

State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said three hosts at the party in Jackson were cited for executive order violations. 

Outdoor gatherings are limited to 500 people. Inside gatherings are limited to 100 people, or 25 percent of a room’s capacity whichever is less. 

Ongoing bans on indoor restaurant dining and bar service could be driving parties and gatherings underground, Murphy and Callahan said.

But the attendees at these underground gatherings include a number of young people who later test positive for COVID.

Christina Tan, the state’s epidemiologist, said her department is monitoring the state and local data every day, and agreed with Murphy’s call for residents not to get complacent.

“So we’re not saying you can’t gather, but it is literally irresponsible – you’re playing with fire if you gather indoors,” Murphy said. 

School reopening

“This will not be a normal school year. There’s no way it can be,” Murphy said on the subject of school reopenings.

Last week, state officials released guidance to school districts advising them to be flexible, including offering families the option of all online learning. 

On Friday, Montclair presented a proposed model for a reopening plan, with a hybrid of in-person and online learning, plus an all-remote option for families who preferred to keep their children at home. 

School reopenings must be based around three principles: health and safety for students and staff; quality of education; and equity, Murphy said. He added that many parents, especially those who work essential jobs, are unable to be at home to supervise their children during online learning. 

Today’s numbers

As of Monday, July 27, state health officials reported 446 new cases of COVID-19, down from 488 on Friday, bringing the state total to 179,812.

On Sunday night, hospitals reported 695 total patients, including 128 critical care patients and 54 ventilators in use. This represents a drop from numbers released last Thursday, July 23, which saw 800 total patients, 138 critical care patients and 62 ventilators in use.

The overall positivity rate has declined from 2.36 percent to 1.72 percent, but the increase in the virus transmission rate from 0.90 to 1.09 has officials concerned. 

Officials also reported 17 additional deaths, down from 36 reported on Friday, bringing the state total to 13,884. The number of probable deaths remains at 1,920 as of Monday. 

Essex County health officials reported 142 new cases since Friday, bringing the total to 19,397 cases on Monday. The death count is at 1,850, with eight new deaths being reported since Friday. 

Montclair health officials reported on Monday that the number of cases remained at 472, and the number of deaths remained at 54. 

No new cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome have been reported in children, and the number of cases remains at 55. 

Testing

A new rapid-response saliva-based test developed by RUCDR Biologics is going to be used more broadly. Murphy said the lab, affiliated with Rutgers, is producing 30,000 of the rapid-response saliva tests a day.

Special priority for the tests will be given to priority groups, including senior citizens, people living in group settings, first responders, and people who are otherwise at high risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Test results have been taking up to seven days due to the rise in cases in over 31 states that have experienced a resurgence of the virus.