State health officials are warily eyeing an increasing number of COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from house parties and “underground” gatherings among young adults aged 18 to 29.
In Middletown, a party with high school aged attendees – 15 to 19 years old – led to 52 people testing positive for the virus. In Long Beach Island, more than two dozen lifeguards contracted it after attending a party. And in Jackson, the three organizers of an AirBnB party with 700 attendees were charged with violating Gov. Phil Murphy’s ban on large gatherings.
The Jackson party took police five hours to disband. Indoor crowds have to be capped at 100 people, under the governor’s executive order.
“Young people still can transmit COVID-19,” State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at Murphy’s COVID-19 press briefing Monday afternoon in Trenton. “We need them to take this public health threat seriously.”
According to Persichilli, people in this age group have made up an increasingly higher chunk of new cases: From 12 percent in April to 22 percent in June.
The current ban on indoor dining and bars, Murphy admitted, has driven a sort of “underground” party scene that would not have otherwise been seen, simliar to what would have been described as a speakeasy during Prohibition a century ago.
“Come on folks, come on,” Murphy pleaded. “If you’re going to gather, gather outside and wear [a mask] and social distance.”
The COVID-19 virus has continued to rebound across the state, prompting the governor to halt new reopenings.
Indoor dining was set to resume on July 2 at a limited capacity, but Murphy pulled the plug on that, saying indoor gatherings at bars and restaurants have fueled resurgences in the virus seen across the West, South and Southwest parts of the nation.
“I do think when we do get to inside … it won’t be everybody can get back indoors,” Murphy said on Monday, pointing at “capacity restrictions, socially distant, masking when you’re not eating or drinking.”
“It will not be congregating around bars if the restaurants serve liquor,” he said. “It will be you take the order at your table, and a waiter or waitress will go get it and deliver it to you.”
A nationwide strain on testing is distorting the state’s COVID-19 data, making it increasingly unreliable.
New Jersey this weekend saw some of the highest counts of COVID-19 in a single day since June, though state health officials have suggested the spikes come from backlogs and delays with testing results.
The state reported 446 new COVID-19 cases on July 27, 512 new cases on July 26, 547 new cases on July 25 and 488 new cases on July 24, making them some of the largest single-day spikes of the virus.
“We think some of that are labs getting caught up on days they weren’t reporting on time last week,” Murphy said on “Good Day New York” Monday morning on Fox5 television. He’s referred to those complications as “noise” and “data distortion.”
Those numbers reported Monday are widely out of sync with the state’s positivity rate, or the rate of 100,000 COVID-19 tests that come out as positive—1.72 percent as of Monday.
The state’s ability to avoid reimposing restrictions on businesses, travel and public gatherings depends upon considerable testing capability and quick turnaround times, as well as contact tracing, whereby anyone who’s been in contact with someone who has the virus is advised to get tested, and to self-quarantine for 14 days.