UPDATE: Indoor school sports ban applies to N.J. games, practices, even adult rec leagues

All indoor organized sports at the youth, high school, and adult recreation levels — both games and practices — will be suspended for four weeks to help battle the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday. College and professional sports are not included in the “full […]

All indoor organized sports at the youth, high school, and adult recreation levels — both games and practices — will be suspended for four weeks to help battle the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

College and professional sports are not included in the “full and complete pause,” as Murphy called it, which will take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. and lasts until Jan. 2.

The executive order will apply to organized youth, high school, and adult recreation sports like basketball, ice hockey, and swimming — including club and travel teams.

It actually will not affect most winter high school sports in New Jersey because many have been put off until at least January. But it will push back high school ice hockey, which was set to begin practices in mid-December.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement Monday “we’re hopeful that, with schedule modifications, the ice hockey season will be viable when the state’s pause is lifted.”

The order also further lowers outdoor gathering limits in New Jersey from 150 to 25 people starting next Monday to help fight COVID-19.

Murphy’s office said private sport-related classes — including swim, dance, gymnastic, and exercise lessons or training sessions — are allowed under the order. The lessons would still need to adhere to the state’s current 10-person limit on indoor gatherings.

A swimming team, though, would not be allowed to hold a practice or competition, the office said.

”It does not involve you or I going to a batting cage,” Murphy said of the order during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton.

The governor said suspending indoor sports is not a step the state takes lightly.

“As folks know, I am big sports fan and all of my kids play,” Murphy said. “I hope and intend to see the winter sports season in January. I want to see that high school senior get to play his or her last season and I value the importance of sports for the physical and mental well-being of our children. But we are seeing outbreaks related to indoor sports and this is a prudent, short-term step to slow the spread.”

In its statement, the NJSIAA said Murphy “has made it clear that he wants high school winter sports to be played, based on the significant mental and physical health benefits they provide and in recognition of the seniors who desire one more season of the sports they love.”

“NJSIAA looks forward to working with the Governor and his staff in this regard,” the group added.

There been 28 outbreaks in New Jersey tied to indoor sports, affecting 170 people, officials said. Of those, 20 outbreaks and 100 cases have been tied to youth hockey.

“The pause in these activities will help slow the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Ed Lifshitz, medical director of the state Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Service. “However, these new restrictions must be part of an increased vigilance by all New Jersey residents in the holiday season. We need everyone to do their part.”

The move comes a few weeks after Murphy ordered the suspension of all interstate indoor youth sports because of similar concerns.

Despite the new outdoor gathering limit, outdoor sports will still be allowed because the people needed for games — athletes, coaches, referees, and personnel — will not count toward the 25-person limit. But spectators would not be allowed if that number goes over 25.

Asked what science the state used to make Monday’s decisions, Murphy pointed to the outbreaks related to indoor sports and acknowledged officials are “less concerned about outdoor gatherings.”

But, he said, now that the high school football season is over, “it’s time to bring that outdoor limit down, as well.”

“Where we see transmission, we try to understand why and put the right policy in place up against it,” Murphy added. “And we don’t do it just to make ourselves feel good because where does that get us?

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The executive order said the risk with outdoor sports extends beyond practices or games — but also athletes congregating on benches, on the sidelines, or in locker rooms.

The order also says college and professional teams are exempt because they can set up more comprehensive safety protocols, including limiting outside activities, establishing widespread testing, and requiring athletes to reside in a specific place.

And it says indoor activities like exercise classes at gyms have not been linked to “any significant confirmed outbreaks.”

Republican lawmakers criticized Murphy’s new rules, noting how the state’s rate of transmission has been dropping and how daily deaths have remained lower than the spring. They called for the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to step in and keep Murphy, a Democrat, in check.

”The legislature has resolved itself to being a governmental accessory in New Jersey,” state Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said. “Our governor is ruling by executive order, vetoing legislation that would help people, making unilateral decisions without providing the data or science he references, and our Senate and Assembly has chosen to be useless.”

Despite the new restrictions, Murphy on Monday shot down rumors that he’s planning a statewide shutdown like the one he instituted in March and insisted the state is on “much better footing” than it was during the first wave in the spring — when there was limited knowledge, supplies, and testing to combat the virus.

Instead, Murphy said, the state now has “the ability to be more focused and surgical.”

“We have much better data and science to draw from now than eight months ago — and we can focus restrictions on the activities that have proven to have the greatest risk of transmission,” he added.

Murphy said the main concern is the state’s hospitals, where the number of COVID-19 patients has more than tripled over the last month. There were 2,961 patients with confirmed or suspected cases as of Sunday night — much lower than the more than 8,000 hospitalized at the peak of the first wave in April but still the most since May. That includes 575 patients in intensive care, with 332 on a ventilator.

“Stability in our health care system starts with carefully chosen steps to hamper the spread of this virus,” Murphy said.

New Jersey on Monday reported 3,199 more COVID-19 cases and another 15 deaths. The state’s seven-day rolling average for new cases is 4,014 — down 1{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} from a week ago but still more than double the 1,751 cases reported on the first day of the month.

The statewide rate of transmission declined for the 12th straight day, to 1.11, down from 1.14 Sunday. Any number above 1 means the state’s outbreak is growing. But that’s the lowest transmission rate since Sept. 19 and reflects that while the outbreak continues to expand, the rate of increase in cases is slowing, officials said.

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.

The new rules announced Monday are the latest round of recent restrictions Murphy has ordered since the state has been hit by a second wave of the pandemic.

Earlier in the month, Murphy ordered bars and restaurants in New Jersey to close indoor service every day at 10 p.m. He also banned all seating at indoor bars and gave counties and municipalities the authority to order nonessential businesses to close at 8 p.m. to try and slow the spread.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected].

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COVID in NJ today: COVID-19 spike leads Murphy to pause indoor youth sports

Thu Dec 17 , 2020
TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) — All indoor youth sports in New Jersey will be suspended starting Saturday because of the climbing COVID-19 caseload, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. Murphy said the pause would begin at 6 a.m. and go until Jan. 2. It covers all youth sports, but excludes college […]

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