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Murphy updates restrictions on dining, indoor sports due to increasing coronavirus cases

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said state officials want to implement strategies to mitigate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) transmission but are hoping to avoid another major economic shutdown. – Photo by Phil Murphy / Flickr

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) held a press conference yesterday and announced new restrictions to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) transmission in New Jersey as the number of cases and hospitalizations rise statewide. 

Yesterday, an additional 2,075 COVID-19 cases and 11 confirmed deaths were reported in New Jersey, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 256,653 cases and 14,640 deaths. An additional 1,800 deaths could potentially be linked to COVID-19 and are under investigation.

Of all the hospital patients in New Jersey, 1,313 were confirmed to have COVID-19 as of Sunday while 224 were under investigation and awaiting results. Sunday was the first day since June 9 that New Jersey hospitals had more than 1,500 COVID-19-related hospitalizations and the first day since June 17 that the number of intensive care unit patients surpassed 300, Murphy said.

Although cases are on the rise, Murphy said he is trying to avoid returning to the strict restrictions implemented at the height of the state’s outbreak in the spring. 

“To be clear, the last thing I want to do or that any of us want to do is to shut our economy back down, and thankfully we are not at that point,” he said. “Looking at the data, we are taking surgical steps that we hope will help mitigate the current increasing rate of spread.”

Beginning Thursday, all restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges and casinos must close indoor dining by 10 p.m. and may not reopen until 5 a.m. the following day, Murphy said. Outdoor dining, takeout, delivery services and casino gaming operations are exempt from this restriction.

Additionally, all barside seating will be closed beginning Thursday until further notice based on evidence that suggests these seating arrangements are linked to increased COVID-19 transmission, he said.

To make up for the loss of barside seating and the impact of cold weather on outdoor dining, Murphy said state officials will now allow restaurants to position tables closer than 6 feet apart if they install dividers between them. Restaurants will also be able to use fully enclosed, heated dining bubbles for outdoor dining as long as the bubbles are limited to one per group and are cleaned after each use.

Indoor sports, especially when teams from multiple states are competing, make the risk of COVID-19 transmission greater, Murphy said. Since this trend has already been evident with indoor hockey, state officials have decided to prohibit all interstate games or tournaments for indoor youth sports beginning Thursday.

“It simply is not safe for teams to be crossing state lines to participate in indoor competitions where there is a serious risk of spreading the virus,” he said.

Murphy said state officials could potentially impose additional targeted restrictions if necessary and said New Jerseyans should be mindful of the current state of the pandemic.

“In case you missed it, our country is now recording more than 100,000 cases per day … and New Jersey is back at levels we thought we left behind months ago,” he said. “We have to snap back into reality. This virus has not gone away and it is posing its greatest threat to us in many months.”

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced yesterday that its COVID-19 vaccine trial shows the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective, according to The New York Times

Murphy said he spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said widespread distribution of a vaccine could be possible by April or May of 2021. Murphy said New Jerseyans should be patient over the coming months until a vaccine is available and continue taking precautions to prevent the outbreak from worsening. 

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