Two parents or guardians per participating athlete may now attend indoor and outdoor high school sports competitions in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday.
The relaxed guidance, which takes effect immediately, applies as long as total attendance at indoor events does not exceed 35 percent of capacity or 150 individuals.
“This is something I have been wanting to do for our student athletes and their biggest fans,” Gov. Murphy said during a coronavirus press briefing via Facebook Live on Friday.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association issued a statement welcoming the move as “another positive step in the return to play.”
However, the NJSIAA added: “At the same time, we urge parents to give our member schools time to review the governor’s order and determine both overall feasibility and a specific process for increasing occupancy as outlined.”
The announcement is the latest relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in New Jersey. Over the past few weeks the governor and state health officials have expressed optimism as metrics detailing the spread of the virus and resulting hospitalizations have remained stable or decreased.
Since the beginning of the new year, hospitalizations have dropped more than 20 percent, from roughly 3,500 hospitalizations in early January to 2,500 reported on Friday.
The rate of transmission, another important gauge of COVID-19 spread, was reported at .81 on Friday.
“I do not want to reverse course on this,” Gov. Murphy said, cautioning that if the number of infected individuals and hospitalization rises again, the state “will respond as needed.”
The New Jersey Department of Health on Friday announced 3,285 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 660,067 since last March. More than 20,140 deaths have been linked to the virus, with 36 new fatalities reported Friday.
As the number of new infections trends downward, the number of vaccinations is continuing to rise.
More than 1.2 million COVID-19 doses have so far been administered in New Jersey, a milestone that State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli called an “amazing achievement.” Of that total, 933,160 are first doses and 310,529 are second doses.
While the allotment of vaccines received by the state is increasing from week to week, Gov. Murphy said that levels are still not sufficient for the state’s vaccination mega-sites to operate at full capacity.
The federal government is reviewing a vaccine candidate by Johnson & Johnson for Emergency Use Authorization. If approved, the one-shot vaccine would join the two-dose vaccines already in use from Pfizer and Moderna.
A future concern, however, is an increase in the number of COVID-19 variants in New Jersey as well as other states. The B117, better known as the UK variant, first identified in the southeast of England, is the fastest spreading variant in the United States, according to Ed Lifshitz, of the state health department. There have been 38 cases of the variant confirmed in New Jersey, with the highest number in Ocean County.