Online rental company AirBnB said it cancelled 35 New Jersey reservations in a crackdown on house parties after Gov. Phil Murphy decried a recent 700-person party at one of the company’s rentals in Jackson, and other teen and young adult gatherings, as fueling the state’s ongoing COVID-19 rebound.
“[Thirty-five] listings that have received complaints or otherwise violated our policies on parties and events have been either suspended or removed from the AirBnB platform,” reads a Friday morning statement from the company.
The revoked listings suspected of hosting large parties spanned 25 towns and cities including Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Hoboken, Jersey City, Montclair, Newark, Piscataway, Toms River, Trenton and Woodbridge.
Murphy warned many of these large gatherings taking place across the state in recent weeks have led to thousands of new cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days—wiping out over a month of progress made in containing the virus.
“When there are hundreds of people crammed into a house where the air conditioning system is simply blowing air around and also people aren’t wearing face coverings, you have also invited coronavirus to your party,” the governor said at a COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday afternoon in Trenton.
At least 125 new cases of COVID-19 were linked to mass gatherings, be it indoors or outdoors, according to State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“We stand with Gov. Murphy, and we support his call to action to stop parties and promote behavior that respects the public’s health,” AirBnB spokesperson Chris Lehance said on Friday.
Three organizers of the Jackson AirBnB party, which made national headlines, were charged with violating Murphy’s ban on large gatherings. Under his executive order, indoor crowds are capped at 100, with requirements for face coverings and physical distancing. Jackson officials now want to ban short-term rentals.
In April, the 18 to 29-year-old age group made up 12 percent of new cases of COVID-19, compared to 22 percent in June and up to 33 percent in July.
In Middletown, a party with high school-aged attendees – 14 to 19 years old – led to 55 people testing positive for the virus. In Long Beach Island, more than two dozen lifeguards contracted it after attending a party. Persichilli warned on Wednesday that a late June Cape May County gathering led to 46 new cases in the age range of 16 to 23, while a Westfield high school graduation party led to 17 new cases.
The state has a 2.42 percent positivity rate among COVID-19 tests—still in a comfortable range, but a metric that needs to be kept down.
New Jersey’s rate of transmission, or how quickly the virus spreads, is its highest in months at 1.14—nearly doubling since the administration rolled back restrictions in the latter half of June, starting with outdoor dining on June 15.
Combined with COVID-19 hospitalizations, which are still at a comfortable range, the three metrics are used by state health officials to gauge how far, and quickly, the virus has spread.
What’s not clear is how many of the thousands of new cases are “noise” or “data distortion” stemming from nationwide delays on testing results as long as seven days, which means the number of new cases might not be reflective of the latest status of the virus’s spread.
Murphy acknowledged Wednesday that the technical issues may have been at play with the latest numbers.