Gov. Phil Murphy warned he may take more steps to tighten restrictions as the state struggles to stay on top of a COVID-19 rebound, albeit a slowing one, over the past several weeks.
Murphy cited “numerous examples of bars” in the past week “that may have been trying to do the right thing once patrons got in, but whose lines were filled with people who were neither being kept socially distanced nor wearing masks.”
“The virus could easily spread through the line,” he warned.
On Monday, the governor revealed a new low in weeks for the state’s rate of COVID-19 transmission – 0.98 as of Aug. 8.
The spread hit a high point of 1.48 a week ago, but the latest numbers show the spread has begun to slow down “only a little bit, only by a hair,” the governor said.
A rate above 1 means that for every one person who gets the virus, they spread it to at least one other person. It was over 5 as the virus rammed into the state in late March.
The governor on Monday named and shamed three establishments that he said allowed massive crowds to gather outside their doors: D’Jais in Belmar, Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant, and Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright.
The bars were also featured in a weekend report by NJ Advance Media.
“Bars and patrons need to get on the same page. Quickly,” Murphy said. “I’m going to give everyone a chance to do the right thing. But if we have to shut places down to protect public health, then we will.”
“Consider this your warning before you go out drinking this weekend,” he said.
Amid the rebound spread, the governor signed an order on Aug. 3 meant to curtail large gatherings by lowering indoor limits to the lesser of 25 percent capacity or 25 people, as opposed to a prior limit of up to 100 people. Funerals, weddings, memorial services, and religious and political events can still operate at the latter crowd size limit indoors, but with face coverings and 6-foot physical distancing when possible.
Murphy warned that these gatherings, lacking both 6-foot physical distancing and face coverings – the two main preventative measures in health official’s arsenal in lieu of a vaccine – have led to thousands of new cases over the past week, wiping out more than a month of progress made in containing the virus.
“Until we begin to see the numbers of cases decrease – not just for one day, but over at least a 7-day trend – and our rate of transmission drop appreciably over a sustained period of time, these restrictions will remain in place,” the governor warned last week.
Travelers from one of the dozens of states where the virus is surging have also contributed to the rise in new cases, but Murphy has in recent days shifted his rhetoric toward house parties.