In an effort to fight the second wave of the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday he’s lowering New Jersey’s outdoor gathering restrictions for the second time this month to 25 people ahead of the busy December holiday season, though there are some exemptions.
The governor’s latest order takes effect at 6 a.m. on Dec. 7 and will be in place indefinitely:
The new rules include:
- Limiting group sizes to no more than 25 people, down from 150 people he ordered earlier in the month. The limit had previously been 500 people.
- There are exceptions for religious or political activities, as well as for funerals, memorial services, and wedding ceremonies.
- Murphy clarified “separate groups who are dining outdoors at our restaurants do not constitute a single ‘gathering.’”
- Outdoor amusements continue to be subject to 50% capacity limits. If there is a special event (i.e., a birthday party) held at one of these amusement businesses, however, it would be subject to the 25 person limit.
“While we know that outdoor environments are safer than indoor environments, during this dangerous period any type of mass gathering creates risk,” Murphy said at his latest COVID-19 briefing in Trenton. “As you start to make your holiday plans, please recognize that the gathering limits are back to what they were in May and June — when we all came together and crushed the curve as much as any state in the nation.”
The outdoor gathering limits could have implications for planned holiday events in December. New Jersey health officials are urging people to avoid sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, discouraging holiday parades and recommending Christmas tree and Menorah lighting events should be held outside and social distanced.
Murphy also announced Monday temporarily banning indoor youth and high school sports until Jan. 2. That takes effect Saturday.
Asked what science the state used to make Monday’s decisions, Murphy noted the outbreaks related to outdoor sports and acknowledged officials are “less concerned about outdoor gatherings.”
But, he said, now that the high school football season is over, “it’s time to bring that outdoor limit down, as well.”
Republican lawmakers criticized Murphy’s new rules, noting how the state’s rate of transmission has been dropping and how daily deaths have remained lower than the spring. They called for the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to step in and keep Murphy, a Democrat, in check.
“The legislature has resolved itself to being a governmental accessory in New Jersey,” state Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said. “Our governor is ruling by executive order, vetoing legislation that would help people, making unilateral decisions without providing the data or science he references, and our Senate and Assembly has chosen to be useless.”
Meanwhile, the governor shot down rumors
that he’s planning a statewide shutdown like he instituted in March and insisted the state is on “much better footing” than it was during the first wave in the spring — when there was limited knowledge, supplies, and testing.
Instead, Murphy said, the state now has “the ability to be more focused and surgical.”
“We have much better data and science to draw from now than eight months ago — and we can focus restrictions on the activities that have proven to have the greatest risk of transmission,” he added.
Murphy said the main concern is the state’s hospitals, where the number of COVID-19 patients has more than tripled over the last month. There were 2,961 patients with confirmed or suspected cases as of Sunday night — much lower than the more than 8,000 hospitalized at the peak of the first wave in April but still the most since May. That includes 575 patients in intensive care, with 332 on a ventilator.
The new rules announced Monday are the latest round of recent restrictions Murphy has ordered since the state has been hit by a second wave of the pandemic.
Earlier in the month, Murphy ordered bars and restaurants in New Jersey to close indoor service every day at 10 p.m. He also banned all seating at indoor bars and gave counties and municipalities the authority to order nonessential businesses to close at 8 p.m. to try and slow the spread.