Murphy: Strong words against youth hockey, sympathy for gym owners

Gov. Phil Murphy was not happy to hear about rumors of hockey rinks running unaffiliated youth games masquerading as “skill drills,” where skaters often leave their jerseys at home so no one can tell where they are headed.

Murphy, speaking at his daily COVID-19 briefing, said he was shocked to hear this, and wants to know where those games are being played.

“That does not make me happy,” he said. “It’s not easy to enforce this stuff. There’s no amount of law enforcement in any American state that can get into every nook and cranny. If folks out there are willfully behaving badly, shame on you. Who do you think you are?”

Additionally, many gyms have begun to feel the crush of COVID restrictions, and owners are wondering when they will see an easing of restrictions like the dining industry has. Murphy was even asked to apologize to those gym owners, to which he did not oblige.

“They have my sympathy, that’s for sure,” he said. “I can’t say this strongly enough: We didn’t know what we didn’t know in the spring and summer. Not just us, but the entirety of the world trying to deal with this virus. So, the answer is no.”

Other notes from Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing:

All options on table

With cases still on the rise, Murphy was again asked to speculate on what his administration will do in terms of restrictions on businesses if the numbers don’t get any better. While not getting into any specifics, the governor did say he is willing to do anything he has to.

“I think all options remain on the table,” he said. “We cannot allow our health care system to get overrun. It did not in spring. We stared into the abyss, but we did not fall into it, and we cannot, at any cost.”

The governor also was happy to welcome back Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, who has now finished her two-week self-quarantine after one of the members of her staff tested positive for the virus. Persichilli sees the numbers rising steadily and views it as an effect of easing restrictions that were already in place.

“This is a cumulative effect over time that started back when we first started opening up certain activities,” she said. “We’ve seen a slight peak up, then recovery, slight tick up, then recovery. That becomes cumulative because, with every little tick up, you get more cases.”

Health metrics

New Jersey is again reporting a troubling number of new positive cases — Wednesday, 4,665 have been confirmed. In total since March, 381,486 residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

In busy hospitals across the state yesterday, 446 COVID-19 patients were admitted, while 397 others were discharged. Additionally, there were 59 deaths awaiting lab confirmation.

Wednesday, the governor also announced that 91 more deaths have now been confirmed to be from COVID-19 related complications. That makes 15,674 in total, with an additional 1,868 probable deaths.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 3,533 (3,262 confirmed, 271 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 630;
  • On ventilators: 412;
  • Rate of transmission: 10;
  • Positivity rate: 18% (from Dec. 5).

School year updates

Murphy also provided an update on the state of New Jersey’s schools as they return from Thanksgiving break and finish out the winter season. Last week, there were 18 new outbreaks within the schools, leading to 103 new COVID-positive cases.

“As we note every week, these are the cases that are directly linked to in-school activities,” the governor said. “We know that there are students, faculty and staff who contact coronavirus from out-of-school activities. … Our work has been to prevent those cases from getting through the schoolhouse door.”

In total, there have been 88 outbreaks since the start of the school year that have been epidemiologically linked to 338 cases of COVID-19. To combat these rising numbers, schools have been updating their learning plans to keep students safe. Murphy said 87 districts are still fully in-person, 258 are all-remote and 423 are operating under a hybrid of the two.

Murphy also gave an update on his administration’s fight to combat the digital divide — there are currently 31,650 students lacking devices or connectivity for remote learning. This number is down over 2,000 from last week, and down 200,000 from the summer.

The governor said he is vigilant on all issues facing schools and makes sure to take a hands-on approach.

“I’m making it a habit now of reaching out and calling folks within our educational community out of the blue,” Murphy said. “All constructive, really good conversations. My hope is to learn as much as I can, and also to make sure folks out there know that we know this is really stressful.”

Final word

Murphy on the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday:

“To all across our Jewish communities up and down the state, we wish you Chag Sameach! A happy Festival of Lights. May the glow of the menorah help light the way to the better days that are surely ahead.”