A day after Gov. Phil Murphy ordered residents to begin wearing masks outdoors in public when they can’t practice social distancing, New Jersey on Thursday reported 28 new deaths attributed to the coronavirus and 354 new positive tests.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations ticked up again, but the state’s transmission rate dropped slightly.
The Garden State has now reported 15,448 known deaths related to COVID-19 — 13,501 lab-confirmed and 1,947 probable — with 174,270 known cases in the little more than four months since the state’s first case was announced March 4.
Murphy announced the new figures on Twitter.
By comparison, the state reported 53 new deaths and 335 new cases on Wednesday.
Once one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, New Jersey has seen its number of new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations drop dramatically since peaking in April. The figures continue to be relatively stable, even the state has begun to reopen after months of lockdown orders and as numerous other states have seen surges in recent days. More than 33 states are now seeing daily cases rise.
“Our numbers have gotten a lot better,” Murphy said during an interview Thursday afternoon with Bloomberg TV.
But officials are worried the Garden State’s rate of transmission recently jumped past the critical mark of 1 after falling below it for 10 weeks. That means, on average, every newly infected resident is now passing COVID-19 to at least one other person.
Officials told NJ Advance Media on Thursday the rate has fallen slightly from 1.10 to 1.04.
“It’s gotten a little uncomfortably high,” he said of the transmission rate Thursday. “Today, it improved slightly.”
There were 963 patients with the coronavirus or under investigation for it across 70 of New Jersey’s 71 hospitals as of Wednesday night. One hospital did not report data. That’s up from 935 patients from Tuesday.
But the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators both dropped. Of those hospitalized Tuesday, 170 were in intensive or critical care (down 5 from Tuesday) and 104 were on ventilators (down 38 from Tuesday).
There were 92 coronavirus patients discharged across all 71 hospitals Wednesday, according to the state’s coronavirus tracking website.
New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, still ranks second among U.S. states in total COVID-19 deaths, but it is now fifth in total cases.
There have now been nearly 1.6 million tests conducted in New Jersey since the start of the outbreak.
Murphy’s office said the state did not have complete new county-by-county figures because of a technical issue.
Officials say the increase in transmission rate is because of a few of factors — including more indoor activity that has reopened recently in New Jersey, as well as travelers bringing the virus from other states with rising cases.
Murphy said that’s part of the reason he is now mandating masks outdoors. Residents have already been required to wear masks in public indoor spaces since early April.
“This virus doesn’t care about what political party you belong to,” he said Wednesday. “It frankly just wants to kill you and move on to the next victim.”
Murphy continued to promote the order via Twitter on Thursday, sharing a video of television personality Bill Nye — A.K.A. “The Science Guy” — explaining why masks can help prevent the virus from spreading.
Meanwhile, Murphy announced this week the Garden State has added Delaware, Kansas, and Oklahoma to the list of states from which travelers should voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in New Jersey, including residents returning home. The list now includes 19 states, all with rising new cases.
New Jersey is currently in Stage 2 of its multiphase reopening plan from lockdown restrictions. On Wednesday, Murphy signed an order that allows restaurants and bars in the state that are able to open 50% of their wall space to offer indoor — or quasi-indoor — dining, saying the air flow is better there than in closed spaces.
But even as the economy continues to suffer, Murphy added that it’s unlikely he’ll allow more businesses and services to reopen in the coming days to make sure the virus doesn’t spread wildly again.
“We’re gonna be in a holding pattern for the time being,” he said.
More than 1.3 million Garden State residents have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, according to new numbers released Thursday.
Even though the state is reopening slowly, there were more than 47,000 new claims during the week ending July 4. That’s biggest single-week spike the state Labor Department has seen since early May, thanks to furloughed state workers and workers laid off when the school year ended.
The total number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey is cumulative and does not reflect the thousands of residents who have recovered. More than 30,800 residents in the state have recovered from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Officials say increases in new deaths and positive tests may produce total figures that don’t match the previous day’s numbers because the state is constantly investigating and re-evaluating cases.
Officials also stress that not all new deaths reported have occurred in the last 24 hours. Some that happened earlier are now being verified, they said.
As of early Thursday afternoon, more than 12 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 across the world, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. Of those, more than 550,400 have died, while more than 6.6 million have recovered.
There have been more than 132,300 deaths in the United States.