Murphy lowers limit on indoor gatherings, mandates full-day masks for schoolkids

    Faced with a rising rate of transmission number, Gov. Phil Murphy tightened up his COVID-19 orders Monday, lowering the maximum number of people allowed at indoor gatherings to 25, with some exceptions.

    Murphy, during his regular pandemic briefing, said he was rolling back capacity at any indoor events to either 25% of a building’s capacity or a maximum of 25 people. That maximum is down from the 100 people that had been previously allowed.

    “As I warned … on Friday, we would not hesitate to take direction to further clamp down on indoor gatherings, so, today, I am exercising this option,” Murphy said, “not with joy, but out of necessity, which I had hoped not to have to take in pulling back on such gatherings.”

    Murphy did make exceptions for weddings, funerals or memorial services, or religious or political activities, which could keep the current maximum of 100 people.

    “We cannot be any clearer that indoor gatherings, especially large, crowded ones where social distancing isn’t practiced and face masks aren’t worn, the just are not safe,” Murphy said.

    The governor reiterated that indoor dining remains banned, unless a building has at least two open walls. He and State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan emphasized that large open windows were not enough, and Callahan said one restaurant was cited for serving indoors under those circumstances.

    The statewide rate of transmission rose to a seven-day average of 1.48 new cases per each case, which Murphy said was up from a rate of 0.87 a month ago. (A rate of less than 1.0 is Murphy’s target.)

    “Over the weekend, the statewide rate of transmission continued its upward climb, as we had expected in response to the increasing number of positive test results which we have been receiving,” Murphy said.

    He also continued to criticize summer house parties as problem spots for transmission, and thanked Airbnb for pulling listing for what he called problematic locations.

    School update

    With schools in the process of planning for September reopenings, Murphy tightened another requirement, saying face coverings will be required for all students at all times inside a school.

    Previous plans had allowed for social distancing, but recommending full-time use.

    “This tightens the requirement we had previously put in place, which made, at that point, a strong recommendation for face coverings by students, but would’ve only required them in crowded places like hallways,” he said.

    The requirement for staff members, including teachers, to wear masks full-time remains in place.

    Health exceptions are allowed, he noted.

    The state Department of Education is preparing both a checklist and FAQ for districts to ensure compliance, the governor said.

    Health numbers

    Murphy said the state had 264 new cases reported, for a total of 182,614.

    New Jersey had a 1.88 test positivity rate as of July 30, and both the new case number and the positivity number were down over a five-day period, the governor noted.

    There were 10 deaths, bringing the total to 13,971, plus 1,875 probable COVID deaths.

    Other numbers:

    • In hospitals: 738, with 356 confirmed and 382 under investigation;
    • In ICU: 144;
    • On ventilators: 49, representing 34% of ICU patients — the lowest ratio to date.

    Remembering a reporter

    The governor paused to remember longtime Star-Ledger reporter Sue Epstein, who died Saturday after a battle with a brain tumor.

    Epstein — a former colleague of several ROI-NJ journalists — was 68 years old.

    She spent 42 years with the Star-Ledger, and shared its 2005 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation.

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