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Murphy says ‘all options on table’ to fight N.J. COVID spread, including shutting indoor dining logo 10/30/2020 Brent Johnson,
a sign on the side of a building: A on the door of Bordentown City Hall during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. © Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for A on the door of Bordentown City Hall during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Gov. Phil Murphy stressed Friday that “all options are on the table” to fight the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that’s now gripping New Jersey — “even draconian ones" like another round of statewide stay-at-home orders and business closings.

He specifically warned that indoor dining could be shut down if numbers get worse.

Still, Murphy said he’s hopeful he won’t have to issue a statewide order to close schools. And he continued to express optimism the state can bring the growing spread under control using more localized and less heavy-handed restrictions, even as the weather gets colder and the holiday season approaches.

“Everything’s on the table, but I hope the chances of that are still low,” the governor told reporters after an unrelated event at Rutgers University in Piscataway when asked the chances he’ll order residents to stay home and nonessential businesses to close, like he did in March when the first wave of the virus engulfed New Jersey.

Murphy’s message was the most uncertain it’s been in a while as New Jersey on Friday reported 2,089 more COVID-19 cases — the first time since early May the state has announced more than 2,000 positive tests in one day.

Officials have also warned that hospitalizations and spot positivity are rising and deaths are likely to follow suit, though numbers right now remain far below the state’s April peak.

“These are big numbers, there’s no question about that,” Murphy said.

The Covid Tracking Strategy, a group of health and crisis experts that monitors the spread in each U.S. state, now rates New Jersey’s spread as “uncontrolled.”

Murphy disagreed with that view.

“I hope they’re wrong,” he said. “I don’t think it’s uncontrollable. … I don’t view it that way. I believe strongly that if we wear these (masks) and stay as far away as you and I are right now … I think if we do the basic stuff, we’ll be able to still crack the back of this. But my level of concern is high.”

Asked if it’s possible schools that have resumed in-person learning could close again, like they did in March, the governor said: “I hope not.”

“As we’ve expected, we’ve got a fairly significant migration from all-remote to hybrid, which we had expected, and the rate of transmission inside of schools has still stayed well within any expectation,” Murphy said. “We take each one of them deadly seriously, but they’re well within any expectation. So I hope not.”

Asked if he expects there to be a spike in cases after Halloween on Saturday, Murphy said: “I hope not.”

“We’re telling everybody to follow the rules,” he said. “Don’t gather inside. It’s gonna be really cold tomorrow. Not wet apparently, but cold. So I hope not. I hope everybody plays by the rules for Halloween, but I’m more worried, frankly, about Thanksgiving.”

Murphy emphasized that “our evidence is overwhelming that a lot of this spread right now is happening in private settings, behind doors that are not regulated and even harder to enforce compliance.” That’s what makes gatherings over the holidays a concern.

So is there anything the state can do to stop people gathering inside?

“We have been hesitant to put something in place that we then can’t go out and prove that we can enforce compliance,” Murphy said. "If you’re in your own home for Thanksgiving dinner, that’s a hard place for us to get to.

He expressed hope the state can continue to use the “scalpel” method officials used to tamp down a recent outbreak in Lakewood — increasing testing and contract tracing, while working with local leaders to educate the public about the danger.

“But with these numbers, you have to accept all options are on the table,” Murphy added.

As for indoor dining? Murphy repeated that it’s likely inside capacity at restaurants will remain at 25%, despite outcry from restaurant owners, residents, and lawmakers who warn that could cause more eateries to close for good.

“The economic pain has been overwhelming, but as a health matter, the incremental approach, I think, has saved cases and lives,” the governor said. “So I think we’re there for the time being. If we were to take a step back, you’re shutting those restaurants down. Which is something we absolutely do not want to do.”

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