New Jersey is suspending youth and adult indoor sports and reducing the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

However, the state is not considering a statewide shutdown of schools at this time. 

All indoor youth and adult sports will be suspended starting on Dec. 5, and continuing through Jan. 2, and outdoor gatherings will be reduced further, to 25 people starting on Dec. 7. 

The 25-person limit on outdoor gatherings does not apply to outdoor dining, or to religious ceremonies, political gatherings, weddings, memorial services or funerals, said Gov. Phil Murphy. 

Rumors of statewide shutdowns circulating over the weekend are not true, he said. “Just because all options are on the table...doesn’t mean we are about to exercise any of those options,” Murphy said.

Regarding schools, Murphy said only 66 outbreaks have been linked to in-school transmission, indicating that while each in-school case is a matter of concern, school buildings are generally safe places. 

New Jersey is in a better position than it was during the spring peak, due to expanded testing capacity and a better understanding of how the virus spreads. Lockdowns and restrictions can now be applied to specific communities rather than the entire state. A statewide shutdown could still be implemented however if the numbers warrant it, Murphy said, though he said he would be very surprised if it came to that point. 

Officials are monitoring cases for the next two weeks, with the expectation of a spike in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Ed Lifshitz, the department’s communicable disease services director, said the department is issuing guidance on holiday events, including parades, choral concerts or caroling and visits with Santa. For caroling events, or choral performances, groups of singers should be distanced from other groups, and from the audience. Parades are discouraged, but if they do take place, performance groups should be distanced from spectators and each other. For children’s visits with Santa, Lifshitz said that virtual visits, or socially-distanced outdoor visits or photo ops, are preferred. 

After a Department of Health staff member tested positive for COVID-19, several personnel, including Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, are in quarantine.

Murphy and Lifshitz urged residents to continue with protective measures to help bring down the spread of the virus. 

“This is a team effort, and we need every New Jerseyan’s help,” Lifshitz said.

Recent data from contact tracing indicates that as many as 70 percent of people who were reached by contact tracers are refusing to cooperate. 

Today’s numbers

Officials reported 3,199 new cases, down from 3,851 on Nov. 29, bringing the statewide total to 337,304. 

The rate of transmission now stands at 1.11, down from 1.32 the week before, while the positivity rate is now 11.34 percent, up from 8.65 the week before. 

Another 15 deaths have been reported, up from 13 on Nov. 29, bringing the total to 15,146.

Hospitals reported 2,961 patients last night, including 575 in critical care and 332 on ventilators, compared to 2,908 patients, 565 critical care patients, and 309 ventilators on Nov. 28. 

Essex County officials reported 313 new cases on Nov. 30, down from 410 on Nov. 29, bringing the county total to 35,322. Another two deaths were reported, up from one on Nov. 29, bringing the total to 1,998. 

Montclair officials reported 13 new cases on Nov. 30, up from 10 on Nov. 29. The township total now stands at 984. The total number of deaths remains at 57.