NJ officials report increase in coronavirus cases due to lack of social distancing

This week, New Jersey officials addressed numerous coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks around the state and the lack of social distancing as the number of cases rose to 181,660 statewide with 13,944 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

On Saturday, Rutgers Athletics announced it would pause all in-person team activities and quarantine the entire football program after 10 players tested positive for COVID-19, according to an official statement. The number of positive cases among the team rose to 15 by Wednesday, according to New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

At a press conference held on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository Infinite Biologics would begin providing approximately 30,000 rapid response saliva-based COVID-19 tests daily. The tests, which take approximately 48 hours to yield results, will be prioritized for frontline workers and vulnerable populations.

Murphy also discussed the upcoming school year and the challenges posed by COVID-19 and said the state's goal is to offer flexible options based on the needs of individual school districts.

"This will not be a normal school year. There's no way it can be," he said. "Regardless of where we and the local districts come out in terms of the precise model and what it looks like, it will be a challenge for everyone."

The three principles guiding the school reopening plans, Murphy said, are health and safety, how to best educate students and ensuring equity for families who depend on in-person education. He said in-person education is more beneficial for students, as many experts have noted, and said he is hopeful that some level of in-person learning will be possible in the fall.

On Wednesday, Murphy addressed reports of multiple indoor house parties in New Jersey that caused COVID-19 outbreaks. He said a series of parties in Middletown led to approximately 50 new cases in people ranging from age 14 to 19, while a party on Long Beach Island resulted in approximately 36 lifeguards contracting COVID-19. Officials are also aware of a party in Jackson with approximately 700 attendees, but whether the virus has spread as a result of this gathering is still unknown.

"Yes it's hot, yes it's summer, yes we all want - and in many cases, need - to blow off some steam, but this is no time for anyone to be vying for induction into the knucklehead hall of fame, and unfortunately all of the above instances qualify," he said.

Persichilli said gatherings such as these have also contributed to an increase in the percentage of COVID-19 cases in young people. In the first three weeks of July, approximately 24 to 33 percent of all COVID-19 cases were contracted by New Jerseyans ages 18 to 29, compared to 12 percent in April and 22 percent in June.

The virus is more easily spread indoors, he said, which is why the state began by reopening outdoor businesses and activities. Murphy said instances such as these parties are part of the reason why the state has had to slow down the process of reopening certain indoor businesses, such as restaurants.

Murphy also updated the list of states from which visitors entering New Jersey are advised to quarantine for 14 days. The list now includes Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

At today's press conference, Murphy announced 699 new cases of COVID-19. He said the increase of cases in the past week caused the state's rate of transmission to rise to approximately 1.35 new cases per infected individual, with officials anticipating an even higher increase in the coming days. The Daily Targum previously reported the rate of transmission was approximately 1.03 new cases per infected individual as of July 6.

"We still may be among the leaders in having the lower case numbers and daily positivity rates - we don't take that for granted - but we are standing in a very dangerous place. As I said, the alarms are going off," he said. "The only way to silence these alarms and get back to the process of moving forward is for everyone to take them seriously - not just most of you, but all of you, all of us."

Murphy said the current limit on indoor gatherings is either 100 people or 25 percent of a building's capacity, depending on which number is smaller. While this rule still stands, he said he will consider lowering the capacity limit if he deems it necessary to stop the spread of the virus.

State officials also reported 10 additional deaths due to COVID-19, which took place earlier this week but had only just been confirmed. In the 24-hour period ending at 10:30 p.m. last night, there were zero reported deaths due to COVID-19 in hospitals statewide, which Murphy said has not happened since March 10.