New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy keeps up the drumbeat this week of limiting holiday celebrations.

In a year where most of the Christmas festivities we enjoy were canceled, the desire to gather with family and friends for Christmas and New Year's Eve will be strong. Just as he did for Thanksgiving, Murphy is urging you to keep your gatherings small. The indoor limit for gatherings, even inside private homes, remains at 10. If you insist on having a big get-together this year, Murphy warned, “you are taking a real risk that when next Christmas or New Year's comes around there will be fewer loved ones gathered around the tree."

The warning come despite some positive metrics being reported by state health officials. While hospitalizations have increased to over 3,700 and the number needing life supporting care has increased, the rate of transmission —  an estimate of how quickly the virus is spreading — has been steadily falling since early last week.

Now at 0.98, New Jersey has among the lowest transmission rates in the nation. Only a handful of states are below 1.0, indicating the virus's spread is slowing. On Monday, Murphy took note of the drop below 1.0, but downplayed it. "We're happy for it," Murphy said, "but its not worth any celebration. We really need to see is a multi-day decline." As of today, that's exactly what we have been seeing. Still, Murphy says the next two weeks are critical to keeping that number low. President-elect Joe Biden echoed those warnings, saying, "Our darkest days in the battle against COVID are ahead of us, not behind us."

Neither Murphy nor his health commissioner have publicly given any indication there was a spike in COVID-10 cases traced back to Thanksgiving gatherings — Murphy said anecdotally, it seems most people kept gatherings small. He spent weeks discouraging those gatherings, and is doing the same ahead of Christmas.

"This is the year for a small Christmas with those in our immediate family bubble. That means also ringing in the New Year with those in our own household," Murphy said on Monday. The same guidelines from Thanksgiving presumably remain in place. They include:

  • No loud talking or singing.
  • Stay out of the kitchen or where food is being prepared.
  • Bring your own food and drink.
  • Hold gatherings outdoors, if possible.
  • Open all doors and windows to increase airflow indoors.
  • Wear a mask when not eating or drinking.

As hundreds of thousands of new doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines arrive in the Garden State and vaccinations of healthcare workers continue, many health officials believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we may see a return to normal is the subject of great debate. It will largely depend on how much vaccine is available and how many are willing to get it. Skepticism remains, despite high profile government officials publicly receiving their shots. Under most "best case" scenarios, Memorial Day would be the earliest.

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