TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) — As coronavirus numbers continue to rise in New Jersey, officials hope to stop the spread with a series of restrictive measures including new limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Governor Phil Murphy announced Monday that indoor gathering capacity has been lowered from 25 to 10, while outdoor gatherings will now allow 150 people maximum, down from 500.
BREAKING: I’m signing an Executive Order RETIGHTENING restrictions on gatherings to help stop the spread of #COVID19.
👥Indoor gatherings are limited to a MAXIMUM of 10 people
Effective Nov 23rd:
👥Outdoor gatherings are limited to a MAXIMUM of 150 people
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 16, 2020
Religious services, celebrations, political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services and performances may continue under the current rules, but are limited to 25% of a room’s capacity, up to 150 people, Murphy said in a tweet.
The following indoor gatherings may continue under the current rules – limited to 25% of a room’s capacity, up to 150 people:
☑️Religious services/celebrations and political events
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 16, 2020
“We think those are steps, coupled with the other steps we have taken, which will hopefully begin to shake these numbers down,” he told MSNBC. “This is a lot of fatigue. It’s a lot of private setting transmission. Particularly with the holidays coming up, we’ve got to plead with people to not let their hair down, to be vigilant, social distance, face coverings, all the basic stuff we know works.”
The new indoor limit goes into effect Tuesday, while the outdoor level kicks in Nov. 23.
The lower levels come just before Thanksgiving and ahead of the winter holidays.
New Jersey’s coronavirus levels have been spiking, which Murphy has said amounts to a “second wave.”
The average increase over the first seven days of this month reached roughly 2,135, up from about 590 cases a day in early October. The average caseload increase for the first week of September was nearly 340 cases, according to state Health Department figures.
Murphy has a news conference on the outbreak scheduled for later Monday.
On Sunday, the state reported more than 4,500 new cases, setting a record for the second day in a row.
The Garden State reported 4,540 new positive cases of COVID-19. The high case count brings the overall total since the start of the pandemic to 279,274.
“These numbers are alarming and concerning, to say the least. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe,” Governor Phil Murphy said.
Murphy said there were 18 new confirmed deaths, for a total of 14,765
Last week, new statewide dining restrictions went into effect, putting a late-night curfew on indoor dining and eliminating barside seating at all times.
Camden County has been one of the hardest-hit counties in our area recently, reporting 400 new cases Sunday.
Last week, the county opened up a COVID testing site at Camden County College in Cherry Hill because of increased demand.
“I want to be responsible. I want everyone to be safe, so I canceled my party. In terms of Thanksgiving, we’re all going to keep it low key,” said Dr. Alicea Davis of Camden.
Murphy spoke virtually with governors in surrounding states Sunday night.
“Together, we will follow the science, keep our region safe, and save lives,” Murphy said.
Borgata lays off workers, cuts hours
Atlantic City’s top casino is laying off or cutting the hours of 422 workers in what it says is a direct reaction to strict new indoor dining limits imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The Borgata sent a letter to workers Friday afternoon outlining the cuts.
Casino president Melonie Johnson said the cuts were in response to limits that took effect Thursday night under which indoor dining must halt from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The casino is laying off 73 workers and reducing the hours of 349 others.
WATCH: New COVID-19 restrictions begin in New Jersey
Bob McDevitt, president of the main Atlantic City casino workers’ union, said he did not know of any other casino that had done layoffs since the limits were announced on Monday.
“Regrettably, due to the adjusted operations and overall impact of the pandemic on business, we’ve been forced to modify our staffing levels,” Johnson wrote in her letter to workers.
“We are hopeful to return employees to work and increase hours when the executive order is lifted, operations expand and business demand returns,” she wrote. “The governor has not yet announced when the order will be lifted so, unfortunately, we don’t know how long this may last and cannot fully assess any lasting impacts on our business levels.”
Murphy’s order came as the coronavirus rate of infection and number of cases climbs higher in New Jersey and across the country. He said Monday that Health Department officials say indoor settings make it easier for the virus to spread compared with outdoors.
To comply with the order, the casino is closing its restaurants each night at 10 p.m. It also must stop serving beverages on the casino floor, which will remain open around the clock.
In-room dining will be offered all day Saturday and Sunday, and from 4 p.m. to midnight on weekdays.
Laid-off workers will remain on the casino’s health insurance plan through Dec. 31.
Trenton Restrictions Begin Nov. 16
New restrictions will be going into place in Trenton, Mayor W. Reed Gusciora announced Friday.
Beginning Monday, Nov. 16 through Dec. 5, all Trenton businesses, including restaurants, bars and essential grocery stores, must close at 10 p.m.
But restaurants can be open for pickup until 11 p.m. Gas stations don’t have to close, but they will only be allowed to dispense gas.
All residents are urged to wear a mask, and remain at home after 10 p.m.
All Trenton businesses, including restaurants, bars and grocery stores, must close at 10:00 p.m. starting this Monday, Nov. 16 through Dec. 5. More info here: https://t.co/ukZ3WeiTIB. We’ve had 304 new COVID-19 cases in just one week. Please wear a mask! pic.twitter.com/8Yq1Z8erje
— City of Trenton NJ (@CityofTrentonNJ) November 14, 2020
Trenton officials said Thanksgiving gatherings should be small, and not have people from states that are on Governor Murphy’s travel advisory list.
As of Friday, Mayor Gusciora said Trenton’s transmission rate is 44.2 cases per 100,000 people, which exceeds both the state and county rates at 29.3 and 28.9, respectively. Trenton has had a total of 4,598 COVID-19 cases with 80 related deaths.
“It’s clear the second wave is here and has hit the Capital City especially hard,” said Mayor Gusciora. “Our transmission rates may even be higher now than they were in the spring. While we believe these new restrictions will help, we won’t get past this crisis unless our residents wear their masks and practice social distancing. No more excuses about COVID-19 fatigue: the virus never gets tired, and neither should our residents and businesses when it comes to keeping this city safe.”
Hospitalizations on the rise
As COVID numbers rise throughout New Jersey, hospitals have seen an uptick in patients who can’t fight the virus at home over the past month.
“We really have learned a lot about how to take care of COVID patients over the last nine months,” said Dr. John Matsinger, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Virtua Health.
Matsinger said the hospitals are ready, and much more so than in the spring. Hospitals in New Jersey are now required by the state to have a 90-day stockpile of PPE on hand, and they’ve fully resumed normal hospital operations and surgeries.
His big worry now: COVID fatigue and Thanksgiving.
“We all have fears that people won’t continue with the social distancing and wearing masks. That could cause the spike to be larger,” said Matsinger, who also worries that staff members could become infected around the holidays.
WATCH: How COVID is impacting holiday gatherings, travel
State health officials said several New Jersey hospitals have been on divert status this week – meaning incoming patients are temporarily sent to other hospitals for treatment.
“General increase overall in volume and certainly exacerbated by increase in COVID patients,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli on Thursday during the state’s COVID-19 briefing in Trenton.
St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton was one of those hospitals, on divert eight hours on Wednesday – due to an overall influx in patients and COVID-19.
New Jersey’s hospitalization numbers have risen since the beginning of September, but they’re nowhere near the peak the state saw in the spring, when hospitals were packed and field hospitals staffed by the National Guard were used for overflow.
AtlantiCare officials in Atlantic County said they’re starting to see more COVID patients and people coming in with flu-like symptoms. One of AtlantiCare’s two hospitals was also on divert for a short time this week, but officials said that’s not unusual, even pre-pandemic.
They do say in some cases, people will come to the emergency department when an urgent care or primary doctor would suffice.
“We’re trying to get the patient to the most appropriate place to get their care instead of reflexively coming to the emergency department,” said Dr. Thomas Brabson, Chairman of Emergency Services at AtlantiCare.
“Obviously if we’re at the appropriate level of care that helps with the emergency department capacity and our in-patient capacity,” said AtlantiCare Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Jim Kilmer.
AtlantiCare officials emphasized that you should call ahead if you’re going to a hospital or urgent care with COVID symptoms. But if you’re having a true medical emergency – like a heart attack or stroke – you should not hesitate to head to the ER right away.
Dining restrictions in effect
New restrictions went into effect in New Jersey on Thursday in an attempt to control the COVID-19 resurgence in the Garden State.
All restaurants and bars must close indoor dining from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. Bar seating will be prohibited at all hours.
Kevin Meeker, owner of Keg and Kitchen in Haddon Township said for his business, the new restrictions are going to hurt.
“I used to have 50 people on the payroll. It gets smaller and smaller as these restrictions are forced onto us,” said Meeker.
He just doesn’t think it’s fair small businesses continue to suffer.
“We’ve been open and not one employee has been sick. And we’ve been here since May. If he shuts down businesses, who’s going to make the money? Target, Walmart – and the little guy is going to be hurt,” added Meeker.
The new restrictions also impact indoor youth sports. College and professional teams were not covered by the order.
READ MORE: Gov. Phil Murphy imposes new COVID-19 restrictions: Everything you should know
Murphy also signed an executive order to give towns and cities the option to limit hours at non-essential businesses after 8 p.m. Murphy’s decision is a change from the spring when he ordered statewide closures and declined to adopt a regional approach.
“As the governor said, since Monday we have reported more than 10,000 new cases. This is a wake-up call. We need your help,” pleaded Persichilli.
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