Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday he’s limiting outdoor gatherings to just 25 people and postponing high school indoor sports matches until Jan. 2 as COVID-19 surges, but denied rumors on social media that he would soon impose a statewide lockdown like what was seen during the spring.
Any restrictions parallel to what the state saw between March and May are almost certainly unlikely, the governor maintained, even as New Jersey sees all-time record-highs of new cases, and levels of hospitalizations not seen in months.
“I wish to quickly address the rumors that we have begun hearing about some impending statewide shutdown and lockdown,” Murphy during his COVID-19 press briefing on Monday in Trenton.
“Those rumors, whether told to you by a friend or posted on social media, are just that — rumors.”
Restrictions will continue to be “surgical” in nature, the governor maintained.
Under the newest restrictions announced by the governor on Monday, gatherings are limited to 25 people as of 6 a.m. on Dec. 7, down from 150 people and even further down from the 500 people allowed over the summer.
The order exempts religious and political activities, weddings, funerals and memorial services, Murphy said.
Outdoor dining is also exempt, as attendees make up “separate groups dining outdoors,” rather than a large gathering, according to Murphy.
“The gathering limits are back to what they were in May and June,” the governor said. “We continue to urge you to keep gatherings as small as possible, particularly with individuals outside of your household.”
Murphy said the ban on indoor high school sports matches will exempt collegiate and professional teams – otherwise, beginning on Dec. 5 at 6 a.m., they’re on pause through Jan. 2.
Ramped up testing capacity has meant that more people would inevitably be tested and diagnosed, and that’s been evidenced by a sluggish positivity rate among tests, which has only recently gone above double digits. It was 11.34% as of Thanksgiving, up from the 4% seen over the summer.
And hospitalizations, ventilator usage and critical patient levels have reached numbers not seen since May, an alarming statistic, state health officials have warned.
Murphy has suggested that any potential remedy to contain the virus must be “on the table,” but “that does not mean we are about to exercise any of those options.”
Restrictions have been light compared to the spring: the governor ordered indoor dining to cease operations at 10 p.m., while barside seating is banned entirely. And he allowed local towns to enact tighter restrictions – Newark has enacted virtual citywide lockdowns that in effect through Dec. 4.
“We have made it clear over the last weeks we are not in the same situation we found ourselves in during the spring,” he said on Monday.
At the height of the pandemic, the governor enacted a state-at-home order and ban on non-essential travel. Businesses like malls, casinos, restaurants, hair salons and non-essential retail all had to shut down.
“We took the steps we did in the spring because the rapid increase in hospitalizations and the potential numbers from our modeling both pointed to the overload and potential collapse of our health care system,” the governor added.
Low testing capacity, scarcity of personal protective equipment and ventilators, limited knowledge of the virus and lack of a vaccination timeline all prompted those widespread closures,” according to Murphy.
“All of these shortcomings have been addressed.”