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NEW JERSEY – Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that all indoor high school and youth sports will be banned until Jan. 2 and he is drastically limiting the maximum number of people who can gather outside to 25.
The 25-person outdoor limit will take effect Monday Dec. 7. The restriction was made as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic grips New Jersey, and colder weather forcing people inside has made the risk of infections more likely. Indoor private gatherings in New Jersey are currently limited to just 10 people maximum.
Starting Saturday at 6 a.m., all indoor high school sports and youth sports will be suspended until at least Jan. 2. This means no high school or youth basketball, indoor ice hockey, wrestling, swimming or any other indoor sports.
College sports and professional sports can continue this winter.
"We do not take this step lightly. I am a huge sports fan and all of our kids play sports. I hope and intend to see the winter sports season in January," said the governor. "But we are seeing outbreaks related to indoor sports and this a prudent, short-term step to slow the spread."
"There have been 100 cases tied to youth hockey," added Dr. Edward Lifshitz, from the state Department of Health.
The governor made both announcements at his daily coronavirus press conference, held at noon Monday. Dr. Lifshitz was there in replacement of New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, who is quarantining at home as there have been several COVID positives in the state Department of Health. You can watch it here:
New Jersey has had some of its highest daily coronavirus case numbers in November — higher than they were in the spring — and hospitalizations have risen past 2,000, more than 10 times where they were three months ago.
As of Sunday night, there are 2,961 COVID patients in New Jersey hospitals and there were 26 in-hospital deaths Sunday, although it is not confirmed that all those deaths were due to COVID, said Murphy.
The latest death count is that nearly 17,000 New Jersey residents have died of COVID-19. About 18,000 New Jersey residents died in World War I, II, Korea and the Vietnam War combined.
The NJSIAA already postponed nearly all winter sports
Murphy is only reinforcing rules already put in place by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees how New Jersey high school sports are played. On Nov. 19, the association announced it was postponing all winter high school sports, saying they could begin practice and games after the New Year.
The only exception was for indoor ice hockey, which the NJSIAA said was allowed to begin practice Dec. 14. However, that has now been delayed until Jan. 2.
“We’re hopeful that, with schedule modifications, the ice hockey season will be viable when the state’s pause is lifted," said the NJSIAA in a statement Monday. "The governor has made it clear that he wants high school winter sports to be played, based on the significant mental and physical health benefits they provide and in recognition of the seniors who desire one more season of the sports they love."
According to the NJSIAA, basketball, fencing and bowling may start practicing on January 11, 2021; swimming and winter track & field may start practicing on February 1; and gymnastics, girls’ volleyball and wrestling may start practicing on March 1.
This summer, as many as 500 people were allowed to gather outside, ostensibly so outdoor high school graduations could be held across the state. Only one week ago, Murphy cut that number to 150. And now Murphy slashed it even further, down to 25.
Religious services and political protests are exempt from the 25-person limit; they are protected by the U.S. Constitution, said the governor.
Among Murphy's other regulations currently in place are that people cannot sit at bars; all bars and restaurants can only operate at 25 percent capacity and must close at 10 p.m. All other private businesses and schools can operate as they set fit.
New Jersey Republicans react
Republican elected officials in New Jersey decried Murphy's outdoor crowd limits as what they say is another example of the governor single-handedly ruling by executive order, without consultation from the state Legislature.
"The legislature has resolved itself to being a governmental accessory in New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris) on Monday. “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."
"Having checks and balances in government is incredibly important. That is the reason to fight for American democracy," he continued. “One person should not have ultimate power, even if you agree with the policies that person enacts. That is something progressive liberals and conservatives can agree to lock arms and defend. Unfortunately, the establishment Democrats that run New Jersey are missing the point.”
Murphy has previously said that his administration is very concerned about the risk of COVID spread among indoor sports, and that New Jersey's youth ice hockey world was particularly not compliant with the state's army of 2,000 contact tracers.
"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."