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August 03, 2020

New Jersey tightens COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings

Students required to wear masks at all times when school returns

Government Coronavirus
New Jersey indoor gatherings limit Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Office of the Governor

New Jersey has tightened its restriction on indoor gatherings in response to increased COVID-19 transmission. The new limit will remain in place indefinitely, Gov. Phil Murphy says.

New Jersey has begun reimplementing restrictions put in place earlier in the coronavirus pandemic because COVID-19 infections and the transmission rate continue to climb. 

The indoor gatherings limit has been scaled back to a maximum of 25 people or 25% of a room’s capacity — whichever number is lower. The limit was previously set at no more than 100 people or 25 percent of a room’s capacity.

Events such as weddings, funerals and memorial services, as well as religious and political activities, are exempt from the new capacity limit and can abide by the previous one.

The reduction of the state’s indoor gathering limit comes just days after Gov. Phil Murphy threatened to tighten New Jersey’s COVID-19 restrictions if case numbers and the transmission rate did not improve.

New Jersey was reporting a daily average of approximately 350 new COVID-19 cases at the end of June. By the end of July, that figure had risen to about 550 new cases per day. 

Additionally, the rate of COVID-19 transmission has risen from 0.87 to 1.48 over the past month. Any figure above 1 means the coronavirus is spreading. 

State officials have attributed these increases to a number of indoor house parties. Murphy has called on residents to stop hosting house parties, as several COVID-19 outbreaks have been traced to indoor gatherings. 

Before restrictions can be relaxed, state officials want to see the transmission rate and number of new daily cases decrease over at least a seven-day rolling average, Murphy said. 

"We know that there are many more of you who've been responsible in your actions, and who've taken your civic duties to help us defeat COVID-19 seriously," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, the actions of a few knuckleheads leave us no other course. We have to go back and tighten these restrictions."

Murphy praised Airbnb for removing listings of rental properties that had not established rules against throwing parties. One of those house parties occurred at a mansion last month in Jackson, Ocean County, where police broke up a gathering of 700 people.

Murphy also stressed that restaurants and bars cannot offer indoor dining. They remain restricted to outdoor dining and takeout and delivery services.

"The only way we can get to where we want to be with indoor activities is if everyone plays by the rules and no one tries to make end-runs around them," Murphy said. "This is not a game. This is about public health and safety."

New Jersey is still permitting outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people.

Students required to wear face masks

Students receiving in-person instruction will be mandated to wear a face covering at all times this fall while inside the school – regardless of social distancing. 

Students with certain disabilities or a personal health matter are exempt from the requirement, Murphy said.

The state's initial policy only required school staff and visitors to wear face coverings at all times. Students only were required to wear them when social distancing wasn't possible at school or on buses. 

State officials are pushing school districts to include at least some in-person instruction for the upcoming academic year. But many urban districts across the country, including the School District of Philadelphia, have opted to begin the school year with students at home. 

New Jersey schools have been encouraged to adopt a hybrid education model featuring a mix of both in-person and remote learning. Murphy has said that online learning should be considered a complementary tool to in-person instruction.

However, the state is allowing parents and students to opt for all-remote instruction if they choose. Additionally, a group of Democratic state lawmakers has introduced legislation that would keep all students at home through October. 

The state is trying to provide the best education while ensuring equity for families who depend more upon in-person instruction – all while keeping students, educators and families safe from COVID-19, Murphy said last week. He reiterated that remote learning is a more viable educational option for affluent school districts, students and families. 

The state requires people to wear face coverings outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible in public settings. Face masks are required at all times when inside public spaces.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone wear face masks when outside their homes. The masks do not protect the person who wears them; rather, they prevent sick individuals — including those who do not have symptoms — from spreading the coronavirus.

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