NJ sees rise in COVID-19 spread that has Murphy worried
TRENTON — The rate of transmission of COVID-19 in New Jersey has exceeded 1.0 for the first time in 10 weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday.
That’s the estimated average number of people infected by each infectious person.
The Democratic governor said there were several outbreaks across the state that officials found to be directly tied to travel to other hotspots, including several cases linked to people who attended a wedding in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Visitors to New Jersey from South Carolina and 15 other states were asked last month to self-quarantine for two weeks.
"As we took the steps to reopen, we knew we were taking more risk," Murphy said Monday at his press briefing, held most weekdays since mid-March. The briefings will move to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule starting this week.
Even as the Rate of Transmission ticks upward, New Jersey continues to see declining hospitalizations, ventilator use and daily fatalities attributed to the novel coronavirus.
Spot-positivity rates — how many of those being tested as shown to have the virus — are on the decline as well, though several times higher in South Jersey than in the northern parts of the state where cases were clustered in March and April, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday.
"With an increasing RT, all of that works becomes jeopardized," Murphy said.
He said while new outbreaks in cases had been considered inevitable as the state edges back to opening, rapidly rising rates in several other states introduce a new complication.
Last week, Murphy postponed a planned resumption of indoor dining only three days before it was slated to start. Outdoor dining has been allowed since last month.
"I do not want to have to hit another pause on our restart," Murphy said. But he said even a "small number" of people being "irresponsible" could cause alarming increases in New Jersey's COVID-19 spread.
Murphy has so far held off on any requirement that residents wear masks outdoors, though it's mandatory in retail stores and most other indoor spaces accessible to the public. He said Monday it's a possibility on the table, but that he had no announcements to make.
New Jersey Transit on Monday resumed full rail and light rail service after a break because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also back Monday were youth day camps, in-person summer school and school graduation ceremonies, capped at 500 people and required to be outside.
Murphy had earlier announced the reopening as part of Stage 2, of three. Before the Fourth of July holiday, nearly a dozen different sectors reopened, though with limited capacity. They include: amusement parks, aquariums, boardwalk arcades, bowling alleys, casinos, libraries and museums.
Rail riders and NJ Transit workers must wear masks under the governor’s reopening mandate.
New Jersey’s coronavirus trends have continued to head in the right direction, while other states are seeing cases spike again.
Twenty more deaths were announced, increasing the statewide total to more than 13,300. More than 200 positive cases were reported, bringing the total amount of cases to about 173,600.
Murphy, who has been holding daily virus press conferences Monday through Friday since mid-March said that starting this week, they will only be held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.
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— With additional reporting by Louis C. Hochman