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N.J. outdoor gathering limit to drop to 25 people, indoor HS sports banned under new COVID-19 restrictions

N.J. outdoor gathering limit to drop to 25 people, indoor HS sports banned under new COVID-19 restrictions

New Jersey’s outdoor gathering limit will drop to 25 people and youth and high school indoor sports will be banned until next year under new COVID-19 restrictions Gov. Phil Murphy will announce Monday as the state continues to fight a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, NJ Advance Media has learned.

The new outdoor gathering limit, down from 150 people, will take effect at 6 a.m. next Monday, Dec. 7, according to two sources who have direct knowledge of the decision but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

That could have implications for a variety of planned outdoor events through the holiday season.

Murphy lowered the outdoor gathering limit from 500 to 150 people through an executive order that took effect just a week ago. Those restrictions included exemptions for outdoor dining and religious and political activities protected under the First Amendment.

The governor is expected to provide additional details on the new 25-person limit at a noon coronavirus briefing in Trenton on Monday.

The ban on indoor youth and high school sports will begin Friday at 6 a.m. and will last until Jan. 2, sources said.

The order does not affect indoor collegiate or professional sports, the sources said. But it will mean youth and high school basketball, ice hockey, swimming, and other indoor sports will be put on hiatus.

Outdoor sports will still be allowed because the people needed for games — athletes, coaches, referees, and personnel — will not count toward the limit, sources said. But spectators will be capped at 25.

High school football will not be affected because the season ended this past weekend.

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Murphy also lowered the indoor gathering limit from 25 to 10 earlier this month, ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend.

The latest restrictions come as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in New Jersey have risen significantly in recent weeks after a relative lull this summer.

New Jersey’s seven-day average of new cases as of Sunday was 4,070 — up 5.6% from a week ago and 176% from a month ago, though the rate of increase has slowed in recent days.

Hospitalizations dropped around the Thanksgiving holiday after three weeks of increases but remain at their highest level since May 22.

Officials have also warned that while a coronavirus vaccine is on the horizon, the outbreak over the next few months could be rough as people spend more time indoors, especially during the winter holidays.

Murphy has said the state is trying to use more “surgical” restrictions to fight the spread during the second wave. He has also said his goal is to keep as much in-person learning at schools as possible, though many districts have switched to all remote classes heading into the holidays.

Murphy has not ruled out issuing another statewide shutdown like he did during the first wave in the spring.

“It has to stay on the table,” Murphy said Sunday during an interview on Fox News. “God willing, we won’t have to.”

“The great news is there’s light at the end of the tunnel (with) vaccines in particular, but for the next two or three months, we’re in the fight of our lives,” he added.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.

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