Murphy decreases limits on indoor gatherings, Rutgers releases testing strategy

New Jersey has moved backwards in its reopening this week as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases throughout the state is now at 184,061 with 14,007 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed an executive order extending the declaration of a public health emergency in New Jersey, according to a press release.

"New Jersey has made a lot of progress in the fight against COVID-19, but we cannot declare victory yet," he said, according to the press release. "As we continue to work to save lives and stop a resurgence of this virus, we need access to all resources available to do so."

During a press conference on Monday, Murphy restricted the limits on indoor gatherings to 25 percent of a room's capacity with a maximum of 25 individuals in total. He said this change will not apply to weddings, funerals, memorial services and religious or political activities.

Previously, indoor gatherings had capacity limitations of 25 percent of a room's capacity with a maximum of 100 individuals, The Daily Targum previously reported.

"We know that there are many more of you who have been responsible in your actions and who have taken your civic duties to help us defeat this virus seriously," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, the actions of a few knuckleheads leave us no other course: We have to go back and tighten these restrictions once again. Until we begin to see the numbers of cases decrease, not just for a day or two but over, at least, a seven-day trend, and our rate of transmission drop appreciably over a sustained period of time, these restrictions will remain in place."

Additionally, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D-N.J.) announced the creation of the Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program this week, which will offer funding to small property owners for decreases in rent revenue between April and July due to COVID-19, according to a press release.

The grant amount will be decided based on the total number of missed rental payments and the number of rental units impacted by COVID-19 that serve low and moderate income tenants, according to the release.

"We know that many of New Jersey's landlords are not companies or corporations. Rather, they are families and individuals. And like the families they rent to, they are struggling because they are often locked out of access to capital and federal resources," Oliver said, according to the release. "The number one priority of this program is to offer much-needed relief to small landlords, who will in turn pass along the benefits to their tenants who are also fighting to stay afloat in the midst of this ongoing public health and economic crisis."

Rutgers also released guidance this week on its testing strategy for students and staff returning to campus in September. The University has developed a strategy that will utilize risk assessments and prioritize testing when needed, according to an email alert sent by Senior Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Vicente Gracias.

A University Testing Protocol Action Group (TPAG) will make risk assessments and advise theUniversity on how often students and faculty on campus should be tested for COVID-19, according to the email alert.

"It is important to note that testing is just one tool to create a safer environment. The University has already developed thorough plans to deploy additional risk-mitigation strategies in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health (NJDOH) recommendations such as: symptom monitoring, decontamination and cleaning, physical distancing and barriers and the distribution of masks, to name just a few," Gracias said, according to the email alert. "Together with testing and these other measures, the NJDOH's contact tracing efforts are critical to maintaining our community's path to recovery. Contact tracers are reaching out to share information, either regarding your test results, or with notification that you may have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19."