The weeks-long surges in COVID-19 cases across the state have spread beyond Lakewood and off-campus college parties and crept to each corner of New Jersey, driven by an explosion of indoor gatherings as the cold weather forces residents indoors.
“It’s pretty clear that this is up and down the state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a Monday afternoon press briefing in Trenton. “It’s everywhere. We’re looking at community spread right now in a lot of different places in the state.”
New outbreaks are not being driven by recently restarts for certain businesses, such as gyms and indoor dining, the governor said—meaning that he would be less likely to reinstate restrictions there.
When the outbreaks were limited to the ultra-Orthodox, Jewish-majority community of Lakewood, Murphy said he would enact hyper-local closures in specific parts of the state, rather than statewide restrictions. But outbreaks have spread far beyond Lakewood, state health officials warned.
“We are seeing more widespread cases through the state due to community spread and not due to any single even or reopening event,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said on Monday.
Outbreaks have been traced back to indoor social gatherings which lie “beyond our ability to regulate and easily enforce compliance” such as 6-foot physical distancing and the use of face coverings, according to Murphy.
“The cold weather is not on our side,” but “we’ve got to stay outside as much as we can,” the governor pleaded. He’s dangled the possibility of gradually expanding indoor dining beyond the 25% capacity by increments of 10%, but has not made any movement forward.
On Monday, the state logged 1,192 new overnight cases of COVID-19, for a total of 221,205 since the first recorded case on March 4. The new overnight case highs are some of the steepest New Jersey has seen in months.
“The fact is that we’ve got a lot of activity going on right now, and what’s most important is taking some actionable steps,” State Epidemiologist Christina Tan said on Monday.
The state’s seven-day rolling average has been roughly 11.3 per 100,000 residents, qualifying it for its own 14-day self-quarantine requirements levied against 38 states and U.S. territories. New Jersey shares those standards with New York and Connecticut, the latter having qualified for the standards last week. They are updated every Tuesday.
The question of whether the restrictions should be applied by New York to New Jersey’s more than 300,000 residents who typically commute to Manhattan is one of concern, however, they could ultimately be largely exempt because there is a carve-out for essential travel – though most Americans have switched to telecommuting.
“Traveling into New York and coming back into New Jersey is not a quarantine-event, we’re just asking folks to be smart,” Murphy said. The self-quarantine would not extend to “commuting into work and back.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:07 p.m. EST on Oct. 19, 2020, to correct a miscalculation to New Jersey’s seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases; it is 11.3 per 100,000 residents, not 12.