New Jersey could see another wave of COVID-19 cases under two models issued by the state Department of Health, officials said Wednesday.
The high- and moderate-case models are based off the expansion of indoor activities, recent religious holidays and, in a worst-case scenario, people not following safety protocols.
Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled the models Wednesday during his COVID-19 media briefing.
In the moderate-case model, the state could reach a daily high of 5,445 new cases April 18, as well as a higher number of hospitalizations. Under this model, new daily cases wouldn’t drop below 3,000 until mid-June at the earliest. This model is an assumption following the expansion of indoor activities and recent religious holidays.
“Through our behavior, we can change the trajectory of the models,” Murphy said. “Hospital metrics remain the greatest indicators of our on-the-ground realities.”
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In the high-case model, the state could see 8,000 daily cases in mid-May and again in mid-June. Hospitalizations also could settle into a range of 3,500 from mid-May into mid-June. This model is an assumption following human behavior if people let their guard down.
“Basically, we would be back to where we were in December and January,” Murphy said. Cases peaked just under 7,000 then.
Murphy’s warnings came two days after President Joe Biden and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appealed for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored to stave off a “fourth surge” of COVID-19 around the country. The head of the CDC said she had a feeling of “impending doom” if people keep easing off.
Murphy announced Monday that capacity limits for outdoor gatherings and large venues will be loosened once again. Effective Friday, outdoor gathering limits will increase from 50 people to 200. On March 11, Murphy increased outdoor gathering limits from 25 people to 50.
Religious services, political activities, weddings, funerals and memorial services that are conducted outdoors will continue to be uncapped.
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The indoor limits for restaurants, gyms and health clubs, recreational facilities and arcades, and personal care businesses increased to 50% capacity March 19.
“The reason we are increasing the outdoor limit is that as the weather gets warmer, we are urging everyone to engage in social activities outside whenever possible,” Murphy said Monday. “We know this virus is many times more transmissible indoors ... than it is outdoors, so any type of larger gathering is safer for everyone if it can be held outside.”
Additionally, Murphy said Monday the state would lower its threshold seating capacity for venues to be considered large to 2,500, down from 5,000.
The capacity limits for large venues will also increase Friday, with indoor capacity increasing to 20%, up from 10%, and outdoor capacity going to 30% from 15%.
Murphy has said the expansion is able to happen because large venues can still uphold COVID-19 guidelines with the increased capacity.
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“Based on discussions with our large venues, we know that at 20% capacity, our venues can still ensure that all groups remain 6 feet apart in all directions,” Murphy said this week. “This means we can safely take this step and welcome more fans into our arenas.”
Despite the increases, Murphy emphasized that mask wearing and social distancing are still crucial.
On Wednesday, the governor also said New Jersey ranks third in the nation for vaccine supply administered. The state sits behind Minnesota and North Dakota in the ranking. The state also ranks eighth in daily doses administered with 93,733, and eighth in the nation for the percentage of population having received at least one dose of the vaccine with 32.7%.
As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, 4,225,964 doses of the vaccine have been administered in the state. A total of 1,570,914 people have been fully vaccinated.
The governor also announced that on Thursday he will sign a bill that will commit an additional $25 million in grants for small businesses with five or fewer employees. One of those recipients is the New Jersey Farmers Cooperative in North Cape May. With a grant through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the cooperative will purchase 150,000 meals from local restaurants throughout South Jersey to feed families.
During the Q&A portion of the briefing, Murphy said he doesn’t believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be a requirement for kids to return to school in the fall.
“I personally am still of the opinion that we should want people to get the vaccine on their own free will,” he said.
He added that New Jersey will have a great summer, although he believes people will still have to adhere to safety protocols — masking and social distancing — when indoors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.