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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy warns of renewed restrictions as COVID metrics worsen

State reports most new cases since early June as rate of transmission swells

By Nikita Biryukov, July 31 2020 2:26 pm

For the first time in months, New Jersey reported no coronavirus-related deaths Friday, but signs are that the state’s COVID-19 crisis is getting worse, not better.

About one month ago, the state was averaging 350 new virus cases per day. Over the last week, that average has risen to 550, and, on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced 699 new COVID-19 cases, the highest such figure since early June.

At the same time, the rate of virus transmission (Rt) rose to 1.35 Friday. It’s the highest that measure has been since March, and officials are anticipating it will continue to increase.

The trends are so bad that New Jersey’s already-paused reopening may be nixed altogether.

“The numbers are setting off alarms that we are taking, and we take, very seriously. We still may be among the leaders in having the lower case numbers and daily positivity rates — we don’t take that for granted — but we’re standing in a very dangerous place,” Murphy said. “As I said, the alarms are going off.”

The governor warned that, absent drastic change, New Jersey could see restrictions lifted in the first two phases of its reopening plan return.

“I think if we take any steps, we’re not going to wait a whole lot longer,” Murphy said. “I can’t give you an exact date, and again, if we have a really good weekend and start to the week, we’ll reconsider that.”

The increases in the Rt are particularly worrisome for officials, who use the figure to track how widely an individual infected with COVID-19 spreads the virus.

The measure plummeted after Murphy issued a lockdown order in late March but has edged upwards over the month and a half since the state entered the second phase of its reopening.

As he has done multiple times this week and weeks past, Murphy warned that indoor activity, namely house parties and other gatherings, were pushing the state back into a state of chaos that the conservative pace of Murphy’s reopening has so far staved off.

“We are not past this,” the governor said. “Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask or who hosts an indoor house party or who overstuffs a boat is directly contributing to these increases. This has to stop, and it has to stop now.”

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