New Jersey officials continued to take steps to further reopen New Jersey following its closure due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The total number of cases throughout the state now stands at 170,584 with 13,060 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) increased the capacity limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Outdoor gatherings may now consist of no more than 250 individuals, with the exception of religious and political activities being allowed to exceed this limitation. Indoor gatherings have been increased to 25 percent of a building's capacity, but may not exceed more than 100 individuals.
Murphy also announced that indoor shopping malls will reopen on June 29, as well as Atlantic City casinos and racetracks, among other businesses, reopening on July 2. Both customers and employees will be required to adhere to social distancing guidelines, capacity limitations and must wear a face covering when indoors. He said indoor dining may also resume on July 2 for up to 25 percent of the restaurant's capacity.
Additionally, amusement parks and water parks will reopen on July 2 at 50 percent of the parks' capacity, Murphy said on Thursday. All attendees and staff members must wear face coverings in applicable areas. He said playgrounds will also open on July 2.
Murphy announced a joint income travel advisory with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and Gov. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.) on Wednesday. He said individuals visiting from states highly impacted by COVID-19 are advised to self-quarantine when arriving in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut.
"Ours was the most impacted region in the nation and among the most impacted in the entire world," he said. "We welcome everyone to New Jersey, but we simply ask you to join us in our shared sacrifice to keep ourselves moving in the right direction."
During today's press conference, Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet announced guidance for the reopening of New Jersey's schools for the 2020-2021 school year.
Murphy said the guidance for reopening was created based on four principles: ensuring a conducive learning environment, supporting educators with planning, providing necessary policy guidance and funding, as well as ensuring learning continuity.
"New Jersey educators and families did an amazing job over the past three months implementing remote learning, even with relatively little time for planning. That effort was nothing short of heroic," Repollet said, according to a press release. "(But), too many parents feel that remote-only instruction isn't working for their child, and too many children are falling behind. It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely. This is a matter of educational growth, and it's a matter of equity."
Murphy said modifications will be made to various areas within the school district to ensure social distancing guidelines can be followed, including cafeterias, recess schedules and within school classrooms. He said certain student activities, such as close reading circles, will be discouraged due to their inability to promote social distancing.
In regards to face coverings, Murphy said all students will be encouraged to wear them at all times, but will be required when social distancing cannot be maintained, including school hallways or classrooms.
"We are still in the fight, we are still in the war," he said. "We have come a long, long, long way in New Jersey, but we've had to go through hell to get here and we will do everything we can to stay in a good place."
Each New Jersey school district will need to develop a plan to reopen their schools in the fall that best fits their local needs, according to a press release.
Two players from the Rutgers football team have tested positive for COVID-19 this week as well, with four more players currently in quarantine. Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano said there is still uncertainty for the 2020 season, according to an article from NJ Advance Media.
"To say that we have the answers, that would be an arrogant statement," Schiano said, according to the article. "We are trying to do our best with all the information that we have."
Schiano said one of the players tested positive prior to reporting for voluntary workout, according to the article. The second player initially tested negative, but later tested positive on the team's second round of testing.
As of Monday, all Rutgers football players, coaches and staff were tested for a third time, according to the article.
"How can you prepare for a season and eliminate as much risk as you can? You have to grow understanding of the big three: social distancing, a mask and washing our hands," Schiano said, according to the article. "We have tried to present as safe an opportunity for our players, coaches and our staff. That's been my number one goal since this pandemic hit the United States."