Over the past few days there have been multiple reports of large parties and gatherings across the Garden State linked to COVID-19 clusters — including in Middletown, Manasquan and Long Beach Island.

What several have in common: Young people, in their teens or 20s.

Sunday, night in Jackson Township it reportedly took cops more than four hours to break up a party where nearly 700 people showed up.

During his COVID-19 update in Trenton on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy expressed dismay at the trend.

He said large gatherings continue to pose a health risk “particularly congregating inside, in close proximity with poor ventilation without face coverings."

"You’re looking for trouble. You’re absolutely looking for trouble. Come on folks. Come on," Murphy said.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said young people need to act responsibly.

“Although they don’t experience what we would call severe illness as often,” she said, “young people can still transmit COVID-19 to those that they love.”

She added “we need them to take this public health threat seriously, residents should social distance, stay at least six physical feet away from each other, wear a mask or face covering and wash hands frequently.”

Murphy said while he does not condone underage drinking, his comments directed at young people are meant to express extreme concern about the lack of social distancing that is now going on too frequently.

“We’re begging you to please be responsible at your own home. If you’ve got a gathering, don’t congregate indoors. I mean I know it’s hot, but the good news is it’s hot, you can do this outside,” he said. "If you’re going to have a group over gather in your backyard, wear face coverings, please. Don’t be on top of each other. If you do that we’ll probably be OK.”

The governor acknowledged that because bars, night clubs and other indoor party zones remain closed, young people are probably holding more “underground” parties.

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"There’s a big concern that a young person can get it and go home or go visit grandma or grandpa and pass this on unwittingly,” Murphy said.

New Jersey currently allows outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people. Indoor gatherings are limited to 100 people, or 25 percent of the normal capacity of a room — whichever is smaller.

Murphy said several high school graduations and other large get-togethers have been safely held outside, “but it is literally irresponsible, you’re playing with fire if you gather indoors without face coverings, without social distance in close proximity.”

He added we have now seen multiple instances of COVID-19 outbreaks up and down the Garden State where young people have gathered without precautions and flare-ups have taken place days later.

“Please, I’m asking parents,” he said, “we’re asking kids themselves, gather outside, gather responsibly, put a face covering on, stay away from each other and if you do that it’s OK to do that.”

He stressed the coronavirus health emergency is continuing and everyone needs to take it seriously.

“This is among us folks. Any of us who thinks we can just put our feet up and relax and let it take its course is not paying attention,” he said.

The governor also pointed out when large parties take place and police are called, it puts law enforcement officers and their families at risk.

He added he would be open to “some kind of a campaign” using social media to try and drive home the point that younger people have a responsibility to follow the rules during the pandemic just like everybody else.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

READ MORE: How NJ colleges are adapting to COVID-19


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