The governors of New Jersey and six northeastern states want universities to test students for COVID-19 before they head home for the Thanksgiving weekend, and provide the means for positive patients to self-isolate.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Solf, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker want students who do test positive and decide to return home, to coordinate with local health officials to self-isolate.
As Thanksgiving is now just eight days away, and as hospitalizations and new cases mount to record-high numbers, state health officials warned to stay away from typical holiday plans that would take place in a non-pandemic year.
“I urge you, this is not the year for the big family gathering. This is not the year to squeeze around a dinner table,” Murphy said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We must recognize that a large family Thanksgiving gathering — particularly among different age groups — runs the risk of turning the dinner table into a COVID hotspot,” he continued.
On Wednesday, the state logged 4,063 new cases of COVID-19 – the fourth day in the past week of more than 4,000 cases – and 2,446 hospitalizations, the highest since late May. There are 461 patients in intensive care and 223 on ventilators.
Daily fatalities are also the highest since May, and daily cases hit an all-time record-high over the weekend.
That means a seven-day average for positive tests of 3,744, the highest ever since the pandemic hit in March.
“There is no way to sugarcoat these numbers. They are not good and getting worse,” the governor said. “The only way we can reverse these numbers is to wear our masks, to social distance, to wash our hands frequently with soap and water, and not attend any private gatherings outside of those with our immediate families within our own homes.”
But, Murphy continued, a “completely, dramatically” different “testing capacity and regime” means that those comparisons between the current outbreak and the first wave in the spring “can be misleading.”
Positivity rates among tests, and the rate of transmission – or how fast the virus spreads – have sluggishly crept up, despite the explosion of new cases.
Students should self-quarantine for 14 days before returning home, and if they haven’t finished by the time they arrive, then they should continue self-isolation once they’ve returned.
“But they must remain separate from their family,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said, especially away from relatives over the age of 60, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Students who’ve attended any parties or small gatherings should get tested seven days later. They should self-quarantine for 14 days after a negative result. And if they test positive, they should self-isolate for at least 10 days.
“I know families are eager to spend time with students returning from school,” she said. “But these steps will keep your families safe.”
Students should use separate eating utensils, wear masks while in the house, and eat outdoors or in a separate room. And they should use separate bathrooms, or disinfect the bathroom after each use.
New restrictions on private indoor gatherings went into effect on Nov. 18, limiting them to just 10 people, down from 25. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 150 people, down from 500, effective this coming Monday.
Murphy signed an order last week that allows towns and cities to place their own restrictions on non-essential businesses.