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COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY/Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a July 31 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Unless New Jersey sees a “really good weekend” in regards to fewer COVID-19 positives cases, officials could begin rolling back restrictions. 

However, yesterday was also the first day since March that hospitals did not report a COVID-related death, said Gov. Phil Murphy at Friday’s debriefing.

New Jersey has seen increases in daily positive cases, and in transmission and positivity rates, which officials attribute to an increase in house parties, and residents not wearing masks.

“The numbers are setting off alarms that we take very seriously,” Murphy said. “We are standing at a very dangerous place. The alarms are going off.” 

In June, New Jersey averaged 350 new cases a day. But at the end of July, the average is closer to 550 new cases a day. Today, state officials reported 669 new cases. He said of the recent deaths reported, the patients would have contracted COVID at least a month ago.

“Consider this being put on notice. We will not tolerate these devil-may-care, reckless attitudes any longer,” Murphy said.

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 at a rented mansion. Officials are still investigating COVID-relalted cases there, but Persichilli said there will be “many.” 

Ed Lifshitz, the state’s communicable disease services director, said his department has not yet received any word of additional cases related to the party in Jackson. 

Murphy reminded residents that indoor gatherings are limited to 25 percent capacity of the space and that New Jersey is on notice that it could be lowered to protect public health.  

The rate of transmission has gone up to 1.35, up from 1.14 on July 30, rising from 0.70 in early June. For health officials, it is a matter of concern if the virus transmission rate exceeds 1 at any point. 

Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli both announced that the state’s online COVID-19 dashboard is being overhauled to be more interactive and user-friendly. The dashboard will now include additional data, including on age, race and ethnicity for hospital discharges, Persichilli said. 

“Folks, please. We’ve done an extraordinary job as a state, but the game is not over,” Murphy said. 

CDC FINDINGS OF COVID PATIENTS

In even mild cases, it could take “weeks”  for COVID patients to recover, Persichilli said, pointing to a new CDC report. One third of the patients did not return to normal function for two to three weeks, and one in five of the age group 1834 did not fully recover for two to three weeks. Some patients have had long term fatigue and breathing issues and damage to the heart.

School opening

Murphy said that his office has met with leadership from the different educators’ unions in recent days, who have called for\school districts not to reopen for in-person instruction. 

The option of allowing teachers to work remotely, he said, is being left to districts to decide. 

Teachers have raised concerns over classroom capacity, which he called justified. Districts are being allowed some flexibility in planning their reopening plans, Murphy said. 

“Listen, I think everyone’s trying to get to the right place here,” he said.

Today’s numbers

On Friday, July 31, New Jersey health officials reported 699 new cases, up from 204 on Thursday, bringing the state total to 181,660. 

Officials also reported 10 new deaths, down from 11 on July 30, bringing the state total of confirmed deaths to 13,944 confirmed deaths. The number of probable deaths stands at 1,875. 

Hospitalizations have trended downward since July 29. Yesterday, hospitals reported 695 patients, including 113 critical care patients and 45 ventilators in use. On Wednesday, hospitals reported 759 patients, including 123 critical care patients and 51 ventilators in use. 

Essex County health officials reported 28 new cases on Friday, compared to eight new cases on Thursday, bringing the county total to 19,527. Officials also revised the death count downwards from 1,856 on Thursday to 1,852 on Friday.

Montclair health officials reported three additional cases on Friday bringing the township total to 478. The number of deaths remains at 54.