N.J. coronavirus update: Outdoor gathering limit increased

A flyer detailing COVID-19 precautions persists at Rancocas State Park in Burlington County, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A flyer detailing COVID-19 precautions persists at Rancocas State Park in Burlington County, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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New Jersey reported another 3,174 positive PCR tests Monday as well as 660 new positive antigen tests, for a cumulative total of 900,273 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

The positivity rate for all PCR tests taken on Friday was 9.4%. The statewide rate of transmission was 1.1.

There were 2,225 coronavirus patients in New Jersey hospitals Sunday night, including 491 in critical care and 240 requiring ventilators. Hospitals discharged 253 patients.

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Another 16 New Jerseyans died from complications of COVID-19. There have now been 21,869 lab-confirmed fatalities and another 2,535 probable deaths since the start of the outbreak.

Outdoor gathering limit increased, as weather warms up

The limit on outdoor gatherings in New Jersey will increase to 200 people starting Friday, but the state’s cap on indoor events will remain at 25.

Gov. Phil Murphy said he hoped the change will push more people to hold social gatherings outside, where COVID-19 spreads less rapidly, especially as the weather gets warmer.

“We know this virus is many times more transmissible indoors — and you’ve heard that from us I think hundreds of times — than it is outdoors, so any type of larger gathering is safer for everyone if it can be held outside,” he said Monday.

Certain outdoor events remain uncapped, such as wedding ceremonies, funerals, and religious and political activities.

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New Jersey also increased both the indoor and outdoor capacity limits for large venues that can accommodate more than 2,500 people — 20% for indoor events and 30% outside.

Childhood lead exposure jumped nearly 30% in 2020

The number of children in New Jersey who had elevated blood lead levels last year increased by 29% over 2019.

According to preliminary data, 3,348 of the roughly 144,000 children tested for lead in 2020 had elevated levels of the heavy metal in their blood, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday.

Countless children in virtual school spent more time at home last year, and officials said fewer of them got tested for lead because many medical offices and daycare centers were closed.

“This is worrisome, because we know that even low levels of lead in blood can affect a child’s health, their behaviors, their ability to pay attention, and their ability to achieve milestones at school,” Persichilli said.

In New Jersey, the number of children tested for lead exposure last year declined 20%.

Persichilli said it was critical for parents and guardians to reschedule any canceled pediatric visits to ensure children were being tested for elevated lead levels.

Health insurance open enrollment extended through 2021

State officials again extended the enrollment period for state health insurance sign-ups to help residents who lost coverage due to the pandemic.

Because the American Rescue Plan recently signed by President Biden made more people eligible for financial help to get health insurance, Gov. Murphy said New Jerseyans would now have until the end of 2021 to sign up through the state’s marketplace.

“If you did not qualify for financial help before because your income was too high, you may now qualify under the federal changes. If you are already receiving financial help, you are likely eligible for additional premium reductions,” he said.

The open enrollment period was previously scheduled to end on May 15.

Murphy also said there would be additional help for those who are unemployed to get health insurance coverage through the state.

More essential workers become eligible for the vaccine

Another group of essential workers became eligible to sign up for the coronavirus vaccine in the Garden State on Monday.

It includes food production and distribution workers, eldercare and support personnel,  warehousing and logistics workers, hospitality workers, postal and shipping service workers, clergy, and others.

On April 5 people 55 and over, people 16 and older with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and other frontline essential workers will become eligible.

The state has administered over four million coronavirus vaccine shots, and so far 1.4 million people are fully inoculated.

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