NEW JERSEY – Gov. Phil Murphy, speaking during a Monday news conference, implored New Jersey residents to do better with contact tracing as the second wave of coronavirus appears to be getting worse, and officials are seeing a failure to cooperate with contact tracers.
And anyone in New Jersey's youth ice hockey community is particularly in his cross hairs, warned the governor.
"We are seeing a failure to cooperate (with contact tracers) in more than 60 percent of cases, and a lot of that is with hockey," said Murphy. "We're sick and tired of hearing this, folks. If we don't get better cooperation and compliance, we will take drastic action."
"Indoor sports, generally is an area of concern, but I want to state very specifically, hockey is in our cross hairs," he warned. "I am not sure why, but we are hearing of a lot of noncompliance, including by parents. So for anyone who is playing hockey, I got nothing against hockey, but watch yourselves. We have that high on the list, and unless we see better compliance and lower levels of infection, we will take action."
Murphy has said the state has hundreds more contact tracers than it had in during the summer, employing nearly 2,000.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said many people who have been infected or exposed to COVID-19 prefer to inform their contacts personally instead of sharing their information with a contact tracer.
"While that may seem like a nice gesture or a personal touch, it's hindering the overall contact tracing effort," Persichilli has said.
Contact tracers provide expert information on how to protect people infected or exposed to the virus, and they help connect people to vital information and provide them with a safe place to isolate, she said.
Murphy is trying to fight back against the second wave of the coronavirus, which is producing more daily cases than the first: This past Saturday and Sunday recorded the highest total case counts since coronavirus first began, said the governor.
On Monday, New Jersey reported 2,232 new cases. There were 4,540 cases Sunday, 4,395 on Saturday and 3,399 on Friday. That meant there were 14,566 new cases in the four days.
"Another way to look at this is five percent of the state's entire total came in the past four days," said Murphy. "Which is pretty darn sobering. It means one in 20 cases in the state of New Jersey came in the past four days. Let that sink in. Our highest case counts are now no longer from when this virus first began. They have come now. We have got to get back in front of this virus. We've got to do this; we must do this."
Essex County is also "ground zero" of the second wave, he said.
As of Monday, there are currently 2,115 COVID patients in hospitals in New Jersey, with 417 in the ICU and 137 on ventilators.
"We had 253 COVID patients admitted just Sunday; 27 died just yesterday and another 14 deaths on Monday," said the governor.
In total, 14,779 New Jersey residents have died of COVID so far.
And what the models shows for December and January is even worse, and "not pretty," said Murphy.
"If people are not careful, the January numbers will be worse than April 2020," said Persichilli.
As of Monday, four hospitals in the state are on divert status due to high patient volume, meaning the hospitals have run out of beds and cannot take any new patients. Persichilli did not say which ones.
Effective at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Murphy's 10-person limit on indoor gatherings goes into effect.Murphy and the Health Commissioner warned everyone to have a very small Thanksgiving this year, with only immediate family present and to do as much outdoors as possible.
"It won't be a normal Thanksgiving; it won't be a normal Hanukkah or Christmas," said the governor. "We are urging everybody to keep their Thanksgiving plans as small as possible. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones depend on it."
Also, on Friday inspectors with the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control did 104 compliance checks statewide to make sure bars and restaurants were following the governor's orders of no bar seating.
State inspectors found 15 of those bars/restaurants in violation, mostly in Camden, Hudson and Passaic counties. Chela's Restaurant & Bar in Little Falls was specifically cited as having "several patrons seated at the bar Friday evening," said State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan.
After the press conference, Murphy said he was headed into a White House briefing with Vice President Pence, where he thinks they will be talking about vaccines.
"There are better days are ahead," said the governor. "Vaccines are coming, sooner than expected. We have promising candidates from both Pfizer and Moderna."
Murphy said he thinks the U.S. will be ready for wide-scale distribution in the spring.
"It's all good news, especially Moderna today, but it will take months and a vaccine is not available yet."