New Jersey logged a number of new COVID-19 cases overnight with numbers not seen since May, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Thursday, as his administration eyes hyperlocal “scalpel restrictions” in towns across the state seeing flare-ups.
All told, a combined 1,301 new cases were recorded overnight – the highest new daily count since May 29 – said Murphy, who called the results a “sobering number.” Twenty-two percent of them, or 285, came out of Ocean County, while 128 cases stemmed from Monmouth County.
Late in September, outbreaks in Ocean County were fueled by record-high numbers in the ultra-Orthodox, Jewish-majority community of Lakewood, where 209 of these new cases were based.
Many of these recent outbreaks “may be related to gatherings with religious services and celebrations that occurred in late September,” such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
Murphy said that any new restrictions would likely revolve around indoor gatherings, and denied that indoor dining was to blame.
He, in fact, argued further rolling back restrictions on indoor dining by potentially expanding the permitted capacity by increments of 10 percent.
“The weather’s getting colder,” the governor said.
“It’s more likely to be a scalpel than it is a blunt instrument,” Murphy added of any potential new restrictions. “We could see some movement on” limiting “indoor gatherings, as we don’t have evidence on indoor dining.”
Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties all reported more than 80 cases of COVID-19, the governor added.
The last time the state had seen this many cases was on May 29, he said.
“This wave has the potential to become a surge,” Persichilli said.
Outbreaks in Monmouth and Middlesex counties were driven by informal, social gatherings near college campuses, as well as communal living at college dormitories, according to Persichilli. Rutgers University is based in New Brunswick, the county seat of Middlesex County.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have also soared, Murphy said, with 652 total hospitalizations stemming from the virus, and 148 COVID-19 patients in critical and intensive care.
“If individual health care workers fall ill like in the prior surge, we will have a problem,” Persichilli said. “Staffing will be affected and unlike in March and April, when health care workers from other states came to New Jersey to help out, those workers are now fully engaged in fighting this virus in their own states.”
She added that New Jersey hospitals and the state health department have been stockpiling personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks. Her department has also been accumulating Remdesivir, she said.
Meanwhile, the state health department received a first shipment of BinaxNOW nasal swab test kits, which can produce a COVID-19 diagnosis in 15 minutes.
Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said earlier this week that many outbreaks are being traced back to community and family gatherings. “I know we all assume ‘if I know you, you couldn’t have COVID’,” she said. “If they’re a member of your family and outside your intimate pod, and you bring them together, that’s potential for creating a COVID-spreading event.”
Efforts to keep the spread of the virus in check should center around avoiding those gatherings, practicing 6-foot physical distancing, and the use of face coverings.
“I think we all understand how difficult the March and April timeframe was,” Birx said. “The message we’re trying to convey to the Northeast is it won’t look like that this time. What will happen now is going to be very different than March and April, that was very much a large metro spread.”