What to Know
- New Jersey recommends against large holiday gatherings; for those who won't heed that advice, here are the state's guidelines
- The Garden State also revealed COVID-19 guidelines for long-term health facilities for the holidays; officials recommend not taking a loved one out of a care facility for any holiday celebration
- The guidelines were revealed the same day that Gov. Phil Murphy imposed new statewide indoor and outdoor capacity limits
New Jersey officials -- like others in the tri-state -- have urged residents not to travel and advised against gatherings of any size during the upcoming holidays. For those who won't heed that advice, the state shared guidelines for safe Thanksgiving gatherings in their homes. Among those: Don't allow singing.
"This will not be a normal Thanksgiving. With the alarming surge in our cases, we all need to be vigilant, and take all of the public health precautions that helped us limit the spread of the virus last spring. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones depend on it," New Jersey's Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus press briefing Monday, Nov. 16. "[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has put together guidance on holiday celebrations that residents should follow to protect their health and the health of their loved ones. Everyone should only celebrate with members of their immediate household."
While the upcoming holiday season is causing concern by tri-state health officials as the region continues its fight against an alarming increase in coronavirus cases, they are cognizant that some residents won't heed their warnings and will travel out of the state or host gatherings. Knowing this, New Jersey has revealed certain guidelines individuals should take into consideration this holiday season. They include:
- Limit the number of attendees to allow people from different households to remain at least six feet apart;
- Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering. "Thanksgiving is 11 days away, so if you haven’t started doing that, start limiting your interactions today," Persichilli said Nov. 16 when she went over the guidelines;
- Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs with others outside their household;
- The best option is to host outdoors rather than indoors as much as possible;
- Wear masks. Even outdoors requires guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking;
- If you do host indoors, increase your ventilation by opening windows and doors or placing central air and heating on continuous circulation;
- If you are hosting provide attendees with supplies to help everyone stay healthy. These include extra masks, perhaps, and hand sanitizer and tissues, and stocking bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels;
- Remind attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol;
- Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items, such as serving utensils. Use single-use options or identify one person to share shareable items, like salad dressing or food containers, plates, utensils and condiments;
- Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting – especially indoors;
- Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
"Please keep safety in mind while celebrating the holiday. We cannot let our guard down because we know that gatherings provide an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread," Persichilli said.
Additionally, New Jersey revealed COVID-19 guidelines for long-term health facilities for the holiday season. To protect the health of this vulnerable population, the department strongly recommends against families taken residents out of the facilities for holiday celebrations or gatherings.
"Individuals at increased risks of severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid gatherings of individuals that they don’t live with. Small family gatherings are a significant driver of increase in cases," Persichilli said. "Residents of long-term health facilities are particularly susceptible. Bringing your loved ones home could put them at risk."
Instead of family visits outside the facility, the department recommends visitation outdoors or possibly indoors in facilities that meet the requirements for indoor visitation.
Additional, guidelines for long-term facilities during the holiday season include:
- Long-term facilities should plan to accommodate increased virtual communications for residents and their loved ones during the holidays;
- Residents who leave the facilities for holiday family celebrations must quarantine on their return back. If a resident lives in a private residence or room, the resident may be quarantined in their private residence or room. If the resident has a roommate, the resident should be quarantined in a separate observation room for 14 days. If an observation room is not available in the facility, the facility must notify the family that the resident will not be permitted back until a room is available, or until the facility is otherwise able to cohort returning residents in compliance with current CDC and Department of Health guidance and/or directives;
- Long-term facilities must develop a plan for holiday visits and as part of that preparation they need to estimate how many residents can be cohorted for a 14-day quarantine period based on their current census and their projected census from Nov. 25 through to Dec. 31;
- Long-term healthcare facilities should create a reservation process for residents who want to leave and visit families for the holiday. Reservations should be tied to the number of individuals the facility can quarantine on their return. Reservations and any change to reservations must be confirmed 36 hours before the resident leaves the facility;
- Facilities should create a waiting list for residents who request a reservation after they establish a limit has been reached and residents and families should be informed of the possibility that if a resident leaves without a reservation or on the waiting list they may not be guaranteed readmission to the facility until a bed is available;
- Residents and families must certify that they are aware of the dangers of exposure to COVID-19. They must follow masking, social distancing and hand hygiene and they will notify the facility of anyone present at the holiday gathering tests positive for COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms within 14 days of the resident’s visit.
"We are still very concerned about the outbreaks we are seeing in long-term care. So we need to be especially vigilant to protect this population," Persichilli said.
The guidelines were revealed the same day that Murphy announced he would lower indoor and outdoor capacity limits in New Jersey in the coming days, potentially one outcome of an emergency weekend summit convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with other Northeast governors, many of whom rolled out new protocol over the last week to stem their states' soaring rates of virus spread. More restrictions may follow.
Five percent of New Jersey's cumulative COVID case total since March, have come in just the last few days, a sober Murphy said Nov. 16. The state's positivity rate has soared well above 9 percent. ICU patient counts are up.
Amid that swell, indoor gatherings will be capped at 10, down from 25. Indoor weddings, religious services, funeral services and performances can continue to operate under the prior 25 percent capacity limit (up to a maximum of 150 people).
Indoor sports practices and competitions can exceed the 10-person limit only for essential game personnel like players, coaches and referees. In most cases, where the number of essential parties top 10 people, no spectators are allowed.
"We think those are steps coupled with some of the other steps we've taken, which will hopefully begin to shave these numbers down," Murphy told MNSBC, referring to the new curfews. "It's gotten worse and it's going to get worse ... particularly with the cold weather, with the holidays, this is going to get worse."
He reserved the right to take additional actions, calling out youth hockey in his briefing Monday as a key source fueling new COVID cases -- and one where about 60 percent of those involved have refused to cooperate with contact tracers.
"I know you think you’re invincible. Maybe you think that people aren’t getting sick anymore, or going to the hospital, or dying anymore. Maybe you think you’re the victim of some witch hunt," Murphy said to those who refuse to comply. "We already had to shut the garage doors in March. If we have to, we'll do it again."
The developments come after New Jersey broke its own single-day pandemic case record, reflecting the struggles of the nation amid a COVID surge that has left no state untouched.