The rate at which COVID-19 is infecting New Jerseyans has risen significantly enough that Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday that he may consider rolling back some of the reopening plans as early as next week if this key metric doesn’t fall.
“The numbers are setting off alarms that we are taking very seriously,” Murphy said at his briefing on Friday. “We still may be among the leaders in lower case numbers and daily positivity rates… but we are standing in a very dangerous place.”
The number of new cases per day is about 550 this week compared to 350 per day in late June — with a high of 699 on Friday.
That has pushed the statewide rate of transmission to 1.35 — the highest its been since early April before the surge in cases.
A rate above 1 means more cases are likely, while a value below 1 means the number of infections is likely to fall. Murphy said the rate will likely climb higher in the days ahead based on the number of test results coming back positive.
Murphy hinted he may take action as early as next week.
“We better have a big weekend,” he said, referring to cases and rates decreasing.
Murphy intimated that indoor activities may be rolled back. He also suggested putting more teeth into an out-of-state quarantine plan that operates on an honor system by asking travelers from more than 30 states to self-isolate for 14 days when arriving in New Jersey. But he did not add anything more specific.
“Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask, or who hosts an indoor house party, or who overstuffs a boat is directly contributing to these increases,” he said. “This has to stop and it has to stop now.”
Murphy said he was not announcing any reopening rollback action Friday but said, “consider this as being put on notice.”
“We will not tolerate these devil-may-care, nonchalant attitudes any longer,” Murphy said.
The rise comes on a day when Murphy also announced a positive milestone: no in-hospital deaths in the past 24 hours — the first day since March 10, a total of 142 days.
Murphy held a brief moment of silence after calling it “an extraordinary milestone.”
New Jersey has seen 13,944 deaths that are lab-confirmed and 1,875 probable COVID-19 deaths.
Murphy’s announcement Friday comes after the state has made extraordinary efforts to bring down new cases, which were often above 4,000 a day throughout April.
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New Jersey remains among the lowest states per capita with active cases. It also has a low positivity rate with only 2.15% of New Jerseyans tested having COVID-19.
But the transmission rate has been going up and down since early July following the reopening of many businesses, large-scale protests following the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and Shore towns becoming inundated with day-trippers.
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Murphy has said the increased rate may be due to young people partying and visitors coming in from hot spots around the U.S. He said there is no evidence that outdoor activities are contributing to the increase.
The transmission rate was at a high of 5.31 when Murphy issued the stay-at-home order on March 21. The rate dropped precipitously and then plateaued around 1 until the start of May.
July has seen the rate go up and down. It rose above 1 on July 6 for the first time in 10 weeks, raising concerns.
“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,” Murphy said. “We are not past this.”
Scott Fallon covers the environment for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about how New Jersey’s environment affects your health and well-being, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.