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Gov. Phil Murphy discusses how large house parties are leading to the spread of COVID.

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Over the past four days, over 2,000 New Jerseyans have tested positive for COVID-19, some of whom can be traced to large indoor and outdoor gatherings, said state officials. Officials also reported a rise in the person-to-person transmission rate, positivity rate and hospital stays.

“We are back to where we were over a month ago,” said Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday, July 29.

At least 125 new cases can be linked to gatherings in Cape May and Essex counties, in Westfield and on Long Beach Island, and several in Middletown. Three dozen LBI lifeguards and 15 Rutgers football players have also tested positive, said Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. In Middletown the people who tested positive range from ages 14 to 19.

In Jackson, it took both the entire Jackson police force along with state police five hours to break up a 700-person party. Officials are still investigating COVID-relalted cases there, but Persichilli said there will be “many.” Three hosts were cited for executive order violations. 

COVID positives in the 18-29 age group has jumped from 12 percent of all cases to as high as 35 percent on certain days, Persichilli said. 

“We cannot continue to have crowded house parties, it’s how the virus gets passed around. When one party leads to dozens of positives, it should give us pause,” said Murphy. “When you are indoors in close quarters, with the air conditioning blowing the virus around, not wearing masks, you are inviting COVID to the party.”

In order to reduce the risk of spread of the virus at gatherings, Persichilli advised party hosts to keep the party outdoors, require masks, space tables and chairs six feet apart, limit food service to one person and have hand sanitizer on hand and keep a list of all guests. 

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. 

Murphy also said that “too many people” are not responding to calls from contact tracers or are not cooperating with them.

New Jersey’s overall virus transmission rate, which had dropped to 0.70 cases per person in early June — from a high 5.04 in March — has crept up to 1.14, up from yesterday’s 1.09. 

The overall positivity rate has also risen to 2.42 percent for tests performed on July 25, from 1.72 percent on July 24. In the southern part of New Jersey, the positivity rate has increased to 4.08 percent.

Health officials voiced concerns that events such as over-capacity parties were contributing to the rise. 

36 states now hot spots

Murphy has advised individuals traveling to New Jersey from additional states with significant community spread of COVID-19 to quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state. 

In addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the updated advisory includes three more states – Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota, bringing the total to 36 states and territories. The travel advisory applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or with a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.

As of Tuesday, July 28, the states and territories that meet the quarantine criteria are Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

More funding for small businesses

Murphy announced on Tuesday, July 28, that an additional $15 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding has been made available to New Jersey small businesses. This funding is in addition to the $100 million the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) is currently administering through programs to COVID-19-impacted businesses.

Launched in early April with $10 million of NJEDA funds, the program initially offered grants of up to $5,000 to a narrowly targeted set of small businesses that included restaurants and in-person retail establishments.

In early June, the NJEDA used $50 million in CARES Act funds to expand phase one of the grant program by $5 million and launch phase two with $45 million. Phase two expanded the program to a significantly broader range of businesses and increased the maximum grant award to $10,000. 

Today’s numbers

On Wednesday, July 29, state health officials reported 489 new cases, up from 446 reported yesterday, bringing the state total to 180,766.

On Tuesday night, hospitals reported 761 hospitalizations (361 confirmed COVID patients and 400 under investigation), up from the 695 reported on Monday. The number in critical care was 116 on Tuesday, down from the 128 on Monday. Forty-nine patients were on ventilators, down from the 54 on Monday. 

Officials also reported 18 deaths on Wednesday, up from the 17 reported on Tuesday. Of the 18 deaths, 17 were from July and one was in June. Hospitals also reported an additional five deaths in the last 24 hours. The confirmed state death toll is 13,923, with another 1,875 reported as probable COVID-related.

Essex County health officials reported 77 new cases overnight, now totaling 19,491. Officials recorded five new deaths. The county death count is at 1,855.

Montclair health officials reported two new cases on Tuesday, now totaling 474. The number of deaths remained at 54.

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