Local authorities broke up over a dozen Halloween parties and other social gatherings over the weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy said, as health and public safety officials scramble to crack down on private, informal gatherings that they say are driving up the second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
All of them were centered at Newark, the largest city in New Jersey, according to New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.
Essex County, driven by Newark, has consistently made up the top daily count in new daily cases, and to that end, local officials instituted a litany of restrictions last week, such as a curfew on bars and restaurants.
At one party that authorities broke up, they seized “$10,000 worth of alcohol” and charged the two party organizers, Callahan said. Another three parties were broken up, he added, while local fire and safety code officials issued another 10 citations.
“Overall, we appear to have had a quiet Halloween, albeit with several exceptions of a few large parties that were broken up by local officials,” Murphy said at a COVID-19 remotely-held press briefing on Monday afternoon.
“But, those knuckleheads aside, I thank the overwhelming majority of you who celebrated safely.”
State health officials warned that indoor gatherings are driving up many of the outbreaks, as New Jerseyans and much of the nation are driven indoors by colder weather. Few if any masks are worn, and attendees are not adhering to 6-foot physical distancing.
“The last thing we need are people gathering by the hundreds, indoors, on top of each other… at a Halloween party, on top of each other at an after-football watch-party or a Thanksgiving event,” the governor said.
More regulated indoor activities, such as indoor dining, gyms and theaters, are allowed to continue operations because social distancing and mask usage can be enforced, the governor maintained.
“We know we’d be taking some amount of responsible risk… it’s the gatherings that are not capacity-limited that are beyond our control,” Murphy said.
New Jersey has logged over 1,000 new daily cases for more than two weeks in a row, according to state health data.
That included 1,379 new cases on Monday, 1,751 new cases on Sunday, 1,370 new cases on Saturday, and over 2,000 on Friday – with Friday’s numbers being the highest daily count the state has seen since early May when it was still coasting down from the first wave.
Hospitalizations have consistently stayed above 1,000 for more than a week straight, which the state had not seen since the start of July.
At the peak in April, New Jersey saw over 4,300 new cases a day, and over 6,000 total COVID-19 hospitalizations.