A limited number of parents in New Jersey will be allowed to watch their children play indoor high school and youth sports again after months of being banned from the stands because the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday.
The new rule takes effect immediately.
“These youth sporting events may choose to allow up to two parents or guardians per athlete under the age of 21 to attend practices and competitions, as long as the attendance of those parents or guardians does not cause indoor events to exceed 35% of the room’s capacity or 150 people total,” Murphy said at his regular COVID-19 briefing.
“Besides the two parents or guardians per athlete, no other spectators may attend,” he added.
Otherwise, spectators must still follow all other restrictions and Centers for Disease Control guidelines including social distancing and mask wearing. While the change is effective immediately, Murphy made it a local decision on when to start, or if other restrictions should be followed. Murphy also encouraged spectators to participate in contact tracing if cases arise.
NJ Advance Media reported Thursday evening Murphy was set to make the announcement, according to two sources. It was originally reported the new rule would affect high school sports. But Murphy said other youth sports can still have a limited number of spectators.
“This is something I have been wanting to do for our student-athletes and their biggest fans, and I urge everyone to take the proper precautions,” he said. “I do not want to have to reverse course … but should we see trouble spots, we will respond as needed.”
Murphy said he expects the state will be in an even better position with the outbreak in the spring to be more permissive with spring outdoor sports.
“I will be stunned if we’re not into a better place with outdoor sports in the spring,” Murphy said.
Murphy banned all indoor sports in the state for four weeks late last year. At the time, organized sports were allowed to resume beginning Jan. 2, but teams had to abide by new rules — including prohibiting spectators at games.
The governor, who has four children, had conceded he understood as a parent how it’s difficult not to be able to watch a child’s game, particularly for families of seniors. But he insisted the restriction was put in place to try and blunt the further spread of the virus.
As recently as late last month, Murphy hinted at one of his COVID-19 briefings that he was considering “some amount” of spectators and that he may give priority to parents of high school seniors.
The loosened restriction comes less than a week after Murphy increased strict capacity limits for indoor dining, gyms and other businesses from 25% to 35% as the outbreak in the state continues to slow and vaccination efforts increase.
New Jersey health officials on Friday reported another 3,285 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 64 additional deaths as more than 930,000 people have now received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with more than 310,000 fully vaccinated.
The seven-day average for new confirmed positive cases is now 3,306, up 2% from a week ago, but down 39% from a month ago. New Jersey’s hospitals reported 2,565 coronavirus patients as of Thursday night, a decline of 34% since a recent peak in hospitalizations just before Christmas.
There have been 1,244,224 vaccine doses administered in New Jersey so far, according to the state’s dashboard. Of those, 933,160 were the first of two doses people will receive.
As with allowing spectators at games, Murphy cited declining hospitalizations, a gradual decrease in new daily case numbers, and the lowered rate of transmission of the virus as reasons why certain businesses can increase indoor capacity.
Currently, all indoor organized sports at the youth, high school, and adult recreational levels are permitted in New Jersey. But teams are only able to exceed the state’s current 10-person limit on indoor gatherings during practices, and games.
The state’s ban on interstate sports and competitions is still in effect.
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