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U.S. Cities Tighten Rules; Cases in Americas Jump: Virus Update

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The spread of the virus accelerated in the Americas with U.S. cases jumping the most in almost eight weeks, Brazil reporting its second-highest daily number and Mexico logging a record rise in new infections.

Texas ordered residents to wear masks, reversing course as it reported its second-most daily infections, while Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, imposed an overnight curfew. The Centers for Disease Control said fatalities in the U.S. could reach 160,000 by late July. Peru became the 10th nation to report 10,000 deaths.

North Korea, which has never reported any cases, said it has halted the spread of the virus.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases near 11 million; Deaths top 519,500
  • Life, liberty and face masks: a virus preys on America
  • Rights of American workers could change after virus
  • An unfestive July 4th as states call off the celebrations
  • Dining out means plexiglass, planters, hand-washing stations
  • Understanding the virus and its unanswered questions
  • Covid-19 isn’t killing cash. People are hoarding more of it
  • The post-pandemic hotel looks a lot like a cruise ship

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus.

Mexico Cases Rise by Record (8:10 a.m. HK)

Mexico reported a record daily rise of 6,741 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 238,511, according to the Health Ministry. Deaths rose 679 to 29,189. The increase in cases comes a day after Mexico overtook Spain to become the country with the world’s sixth-deadliest virus outbreak.

Earlier, deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell told The Washington Post that Mexico’s capital registered about three times as many deaths as it normally does from March through May, bolstering concerns that the nation’s official statistics on the virus don’t accurately reflect the full scale of the health crisis.

The city registered an average of 18,533 deaths from March to May in the 2016 to 2018 period, according to researchers at Nexos magazine.

Miami-Dade Orders Overnight Curfew (7:05 a.m. HK)

Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county, is implementing a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and rolling back the reopening of movie theaters, arcades, casinos and bowling alleys, among other places of entertainment, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement.

The curfew order exempts essential workers including first responders and hospital workers.

Gimenez said hospitals are observing an “uptick in patients, and our medical professionals are seeing a rise in 18-to 34-year-olds who are getting extremely sick,” according to the statement.

Chicago Targets 15 States for Quarantine (6:30 a.m. HK)

Chicago ordered travelers entering or returning to the city from states with surging cases to quarantine for 14 days, starting July 6, Allison Arwady, public health commissioner, said in a statement Thursday. The order applies to states with a rate greater than 15 cases per 100,000 residents per day, over a 7-day average.

The states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. New cases and death rates in Chicago and Illinois dropped from their peaks and both entered Phase 4 of the state’s five-part reopening plan on June 26.

Twitter Joins Mask Debate With Edit-Button Tease (6:17 a.m. HK)

Twitter waded into the mask debate with a post that promised users a button that would allow users to edit tweets after publication – a feature the company has said it would probably never introduce — but only if “everyone wears a mask” to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

CDC: U.S. Deaths at 140,000-160,000 by July 25 (6:05 a.m. HK)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast as many as 160,000 deaths by July 25, with 11 states expected to register more deaths in the next four weeks than the previous four.

New deaths in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming will likely exceed the number of the past month, according to state-level ensemble forecasts. For other states, new death total are expected to be similar to the previous four weeks or to decrease slightly.

Kim Says North Korea Halted Virus (6 a.m. HK)

North Korea “thoroughly prevented” the spread of a disease that caused “the worldwide health crisis” but must guard against complacency, the state news agency KCNA reported, citing leader Kim Jong Un at a party meeting. The report doesn’t specifically mention Covid-19 but refers to “the malignant contagious disease.”

Kim offered “sharp criticism” of inattention by officials in the “protracted” fight against the disease, according to the report. “He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” KCNA reported.

While North Korea hasn’t confirmed any cases of the disease, the announcement from Kim and a plea during the meeting to speed up construction of a hospital in the capital are the latest indications that the country has not avoided contamination.

Brazil Cases Rise 3.3% (5:50 p.m. NY)

Brazil registered 48,105 new cases, the second-most for a single day and a 3.3% rise from a day earlier, pushing the national total to 1,496,858, according to Health Ministry data. Deaths increased by 1,252 for a toll of 61,884.

The country’s biggest jump in cases was 54,771 on June 19.

U.S. Businesses Push for Mask Requirements (5:30 p.m. NY)

Top U.S. trade groups urged President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and governors to issue guidelines on wearing masks, citing the economic risk from Covid-19’s accelerating spread.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the Business Roundtable and others sent a letter Thursday, a day after Trump offered limited praise for masks but suggested they needn’t be required. The president has put little emphasis on masks despite evidence they help combat the spread.

“Absent stronger measures to prevent transmission, communities across America risk another round of shutdowns, broad restrictions on non-essential activities, and irreparable economic harm,” said the organizations, which generally view federal regulation skeptically.

Peru Tops 10,000 Deaths (5:25 p.m. NY)

Peru’s death toll exceeded 10,000 on Thursday — the 10th nation to reach the milestone — as the government pressed ahead with a plan to reopen the economy. The country reported 185 fatalities in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 10,045, less than 16 weeks after reporting its first virus death. In all, 292,002 have been infected in the nation of 32 million, according to the Health Ministry.

In Latin America, the current epicenter of the pandemic, only Brazil and Mexico have reported more deaths.

Texas Cases Rise Tops 7-Day Average (5 p.m. NY)

Texas recorded its second-worst day of the pandemic with 7,915 new cases, according to state health department data on Thursday. The 4.7% growth rate surpassed the seven-day average of 4.2%. That followed Wednesday’s record tally of 8,076 new diagnoses.

Virus-related hospitalizations expanded by 6.9% to 7,382, the data showed, as medical facilities in Houston and elsewhere showing increasing signs of strain. Fatalities rose by 1.8% to 2,525.

Texas Issues Mask Order (4:30 p.m. NY)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered residents to wear face coverings amid a spike in cases in the second-most populous U.S. state.

In a reversal of his months-long opposition to such a mandate, Abbott, an ally of President Donald Trump, on Thursday said the order applies to all counties with 20 or more virus cases. He also barred people from gathering in groups larger than 10.

The Republican governor has been under growing pressure from Democratic mayors and county leaders to crack down or at least grant them authority to mandate masks and other restrictions.

U.S. Cases Rise the Most Since May 9 (4 p.m. NY)

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose by 56,800 from a day earlier to 2.72 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. The 2.1% increase was higher than the average daily increase of 1.7% over the past week and the biggest jump since May 9. Deaths rose 0.6% to 128,439.

  • Florida reported 169,106 cases, up 6.4% from a day earlier, compared with an average increase of 5.6% in the previous seven days.
  • Arizona reported 3,333 new cases, an increase of 4% to 87,425. Deaths increased by 37, to a total of 1,757.
  • California cases rose 1.7% to 240,195 while deaths rose 1.2% to 6,163, according to the state’s website.

N.J. Doubles Outdoor Gathering Limit (4 p.m. NY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy doubled the state’s outdoor gathering limit, to 500, starting Friday morning. Outdoor religious services and political activities, such as demonstrations, have no cap. Indoors, the crowd maximum remains 25% of a space’s capacity, with 100 people at most.

Murphy this week indefinitely delayed lifting a ban on indoor dining, which was to restart on Thursday, citing “knucklehead” non-distancing behavior at New Jersey outdoor establishments and spiking cases nationally. New Jersey reported 13,251 dead who tested positive for the novel coronavirus and another 1,854 fatalities with a probable but untested link.

Djokovic, Wife Test Negative (3:15 p.m. NY)

Novak Djokovic and his wife tested negative for the coronavirus, his media team said Thursday, 10 days after announcing they had contracted the disease, the Associated Press said.

The top-ranked player tested positive after playing in an exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia. No social distancing was observed at the matches in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia. Both were in self-isolation in the Serbian capital since testing positive, the statement said.

Other players to come down with the virus after participating in the matches in Belgrade and Zadar were Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki.

Covid-19 Mutation May Enable Spread (2:10 p.nm. NY)

The novel coronavirus is showing some signs of mutating in a way that may make it easier to spread, according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Research currently underway suggests a single mutation is emerging that lets the virus replicate better and create a higher viral load, measures that could make it easier to transmit, Fauci said at an online event Thursday hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

There is some dispute about the findings and it’s not clear whether people who become infected with a newer variation of the pathogen fare worse than those with the original strain, he said. “It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible,” he said. “This is still at the stage of trying to confirm that.”

Moderna Sets Human Trial for Vaccine (1:40 p.m. NY)

Drug-maker Moderna Inc. said a 30,000-patient trial of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate will start late this month, although a Stats News article earlier Thursday said the work had been expected to begin next week. Shares fell as much as 9.4% after the report. Company spokesman Ray Jordan confirmed to Bloomberg the trial should start in or by late July, which he said is consistent with the window previously communicated. The company is “working through finalizing of sites,” he said.

Stats earlier said Moderna is making changes to the trial, which delayed the start date, and investigators told the news site that changes are common.

Houston May Tap Surge ICU Beds (12:40 p.m. NY)

Houston posted a 4.3% increase in Covid-19 patients in intensive care, and at the current rate of expansion the city’s hospitals will have to tap a second tranche of so-called surge beds on July 14, according to the Texas Medical Center.

In the first phase of surge capacity, 5.4% of the 373 beds already are occupied after the normal ICU space was overwhelmed earlier this week, the medical center said on its website on Thursday. The second phase has 504 beds available. To be sure, 62% of the city’s ICU capacity is occupied by non-virus patients.

Trump: Three Vaccine Candidates ‘Really Good’ (12:10 p.m. NY)

Three vaccine candidates are “looking really, really good” in trials, President Donald Trump said Thursday at a White House event showcasing small businesses. Trump said three more vaccines will begin trials “shortly,” without elaborating.

The military is standing by, ready to distribute the vaccines, Trump said. A vaccine will be out “soon,” the president said.

GOP Lawmaker Urges End of Task Force (12:35 p.m. NY)

An influential U.S. House Republican from Arizona, which is enduring one of the worst Covid-19 spikes, urged President Donald Trump to disband the White House coronavirus task force because he said it’s hindering the economic recovery.

Scientists are causing an unnecessary “panic,” Representative Andy Biggs, who represents the suburbs east of Phoenix, said in a statement. “Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx continue to contradict many of President Trump’s stated goals and actions for returning to normalcy as we know more about the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Biggs, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives whom Trump often consults.

Arizona Cases Climb 4% (11:50 a.m. NY)

Arizona reported 3,333 new cases Thursday, an increase of 4% to 87,425. The number of deaths increased by 37, to a total of 1,757, the Department of Health Services said.

The state registered a record-high 4,878 daily infections and 88 new deaths Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence visited Arizona the same day but didn’t mention the record figures. He said he was optimistic as the number of “fatalities are declining across the country.”

Nashville Reverses on Reopening (10:45 a.m. NY)

Tennessee’s Davidson County, which includes Nashville, reversed course after reporting a one-day record for new cases and will close socially driven businesses such as event and entertainment venues, Mayor John Cooper said in a statement.

Restaurants can remain open but must cut capacity to 50% from 75%, he said, noting the rate of new cases fell while bars and eating places were at half capacity. The city — a popular U.S. tourist attraction — will operate under the rules for several weeks, he said.

— With assistance by Steve Geimann, Joe Carroll, Jordan Fabian, Elise Young, and Shruti Singh

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Young Americans Are Partying Hard and Spreading Covid-19 Quickly

Covid-19 is increasingly a disease of the young, with the message to stay home for the sake of older loved ones wearing off as the pandemic wears on.

The dropping age of the infected is becoming one of the most pressing problems for local officials, who continued Wednesday to set curfews and close places where the young gather. U.S. health experts say that they are more likely to be active and asymptomatic, providing a vast redoubt for the coronavirus that has killed almost 130,000 Americans.

In Arizona, half of all positive cases are people from the ages of 20 to 44, according to state data. The median age in Florida is 37, down from 65 in March. In Texas’s Hays County, people in their 20s make up 50% of the victims.

At the start of the pandemic, young people were told to stay at home as an act of selflessness: Do it for dad. For grandma. For your neighbor. Then states started reopening and, almost instantly, photos began circulating of packed clubs and crowded restaurants. There were massive street protests over police brutality and racial injustice. Case counts soared to record levels.

“We did jump the gun on reopening too soon,” said Ian Grimes, 27, of Austin, home of Texas’s flagship university, scores of technology companies and a self-consciously bohemian party culture. “Especially us Austinites, we’re impatient when it comes to having fun.”

Grimes, who is in real estate, sits outside when grabbing a beer and wears a mask if he’s out and about. But his brand of conscientiousness is offset by rambunctious peers bursting out of lockdown.

“There’s complete burnout,” said Sandy Cox, mayor of Lakeway, an Austin suburb. Last week, Cox posted a live video on Facebook warning residents that high schoolers had held a “very large party” just outside her city. Since then, a number of those who attended have tested positive for Covid-19, according to Austin Public Health.

“You’re young, you’re invincible, you don’t think it’s going to happen to you, and if it happens to you, you think you’re going to be fine,” Cox said in an interview. “The messaging is care for thy neighbor, but it is hard to get through to people.”

Officials around the nation are trying their best. On Wednesday, Miami Beach instituted a 12:30 a.m. curfew. California closed restaurants, bars, museums and movie theaters in 19 counties, including Los Angeles.

Arizona and Texas had already closed their bars. Madison, Wisconsin, and surrounding Dane County did the same on Wednesday following a surge in cases. Over roughly two weeks in June, 614 people in the county tested positive, almost half of them from the ages of 18 to 25. Of those cases, 132 people traced their infection to bars.

“Gathering in bars in particular is a concern because groups of people mix, bars are often loud spaces that require loud talking to communicate (which can spread infectious droplets farther), alcohol impairs the judgment of patrons, and people often are not able to identify or provide contact information for the people they were in close contact with,” the local public health office said in a statement.

Packed clubs and high-school ragers are obvious dangers. But many cooped-up people in their late teens and 20s have engaged in what they thought were lower-risk activities only to be unpleasantly surprised.

Sequoia Gregory, a 17-year-old in Eugene, Oregon, got to see her friends for the first time two weeks ago. She was in isolation for four months. They kept their distance, particularly because Gregory’s mother has stage 4 colon cancer and Gregory worried about making her sicker still. She’s glad she did: Turns out that her friends had been hanging out with people who tested positive after a house party.

Younger people are far less likely to die from Covid-19 than those 65 and older. And because testing was initially limited to those who were hospitalized, the drop in median age may be partially attributable to increased access to tests.

“It’s hard to assign causality to some of the aspects of this, but there is no question that it’s a real uptick in cases and that’s not simply a reflection of testing,” said Caroline Buckee, associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

‘Extremely Ill’

In Houston, where hospitals have been strained by the influx of patients, many young people are in intensive care, David Persse, the city’s director of emergency medical services, said during a media briefing Monday.

“They are extremely ill,” Persse said. “If they’re thinking, ‘I’ll get sick and then I’ll get over it,’ recognize that 15% of the people in ICUs now are in their 20s and 30s.”

Simran Bal, a 23-year-old Chicago resident, fears the only way some of her peers will get the message is if a close friend gets severely ill.

“It’s pretty disheartening to say that I feel like extreme measures are the only way people are going to get the idea,” said Bal, who has to navigate crowded pubs when she picks up orders for Door Dash.

That’s part of the reason 21-year-old Kate Capitano plans to be especially careful when she returns to the University of North Carolina this fall, even though she’ll be surrounded by students and not aging relatives.

“Our biggest thing is getting people to be able to socially distance inside the house,” said Capitano, who’s president of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority chapter. Each room will house just two women versus the typical four, she said, and there won’t be any social functions at bars.

One way public health officials can help prevent the type of lockdown-burnout that may have led young people to flock to bars and parties is by emphasizing risk reduction, said Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.

“As we know with sex education, abstinence doesn’t work that well,” she said. “It’s really about risk reduction, not holing yourself up in your bedroom for weeks.”

But Lily Scott, an 18-year-old Austinite, said she’s probably going to cancel a trip with friends to the beach town of Port Aransas as cases in Texas climb.

“It’s hard to see our generation being represented this way, because so many of us are being cautious and trying to flatten the curve,” she said. “I’m trying to be a team player.”

— With assistance by Joe Carroll, Michelle Fay Cortez, Jonathan Levin, Ayshatu Diallo, Renata S Geraldo, Drew Hutchinson, and Catherine Leffert

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In Hot-Spot States, Those Seeking Tests Meet Long Lines, Delays

The U.S. is again grappling with a shortfall of testing that has hobbled the nation since the pandemic’s early weeks, and now threatens to further undermine containment efforts at a crucial moment.

In new hot spots like Arizona, Texas and Florida, where Covid-19 is rapidly spreading, lines for testing extend outside of urgent-care offices and other sites. Two high-school football stadiums in Houston regularly hit capacity by mid-morning and have to turn people away.

The country’s largest labs are forecasting a surge in demand that could lead to longer waits for test results, and have warned that limited amounts of critical testing supplies could become a constraint. Though capacity has expanded, widespread testing remains elusive, in part due to persistent supply shortages.

“We are still grossly inadequate. We’re so far behind,” said Howard Forman, director of the Yale School of Public Health’s health-care management program. “We still have a supply issue, and then we had a demand issue. You have both issues playing out. At the federal, state and local level, you need both those things addressed.”

The testing dearth comes months into a public-health crisis in which, absent a vaccine, Covid-19 screenings have become the first line of defense. Reopening states only turned up the pressure, boosting demand for testing as Americans increasingly went back to work, ate out, got haircuts and gathered socially.

The surge in cases has forced states to reconsider their reopening efforts. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday paused plans to restart indoor dining on July 2. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also said skyrocketing cases in the South and West have prompted them to consider postponing dining’s return. U.S. virus deaths have exceeded 125,000 out of more than 2.5 million reported cases.

The pause in reopening was endorsed by Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday joined Vice President Mike Pence in encouraging the public to wear masks. On Tuesday, top federal health officials including infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci are expected to appear at a Senate committee hearing to discuss efforts to get back to work and school.

Worldwide, deaths have surpassed 500,000. The World Health Organization said “the worst is yet to come” as some countries see a resurgence of cases. Half the deaths are coming from the Americas.

The shortfalls in U.S. testing availability highlight the Trump administration’s failure to execute a cohesive national strategy. The burden shifted to states, which were provided some testing supplies in May and but have been told only limited amounts are available thereafter.

The U.S. processed about 557,000 tests each day, on average, over the last week, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Given the size of the current U.S. outbreak, 2 million to 4 million tests a day would be needed “to do something to really wipe it out,” Forman estimated. “We’re not really close to that.”

In Texas, which is quickly becoming the new U.S. epicenter, the strain from increasing testing demand was felt by hospitals, public-health departments and patients alike. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said capacity at the Delmar and Butler stadium sites will be expanded by 30% starting Tuesday.

A line that started before 5 a.m. Sunday at an urgent-care center in South Austin was compared to the wait for a wristband to Austin City Limits, the city’s annual music festival, or the queue for barbecue at Franklin’s, which would draw dozens customers to its doors before sunrise.

Kaitlin Heikes, a 26-year-old San Antonio resident, had to drive 45 minutes to Spring Branch for a rapid test. She made an appointment on Sunday for the following day after she didn’t have any luck on Friday or Saturday.

At the Houston Methodist hospital system, demand for testing doubled over the last week or so, David Bernard, medical director of clinical pathology, said in a Friday interview. The lab has faced an uphill battle securing supplies, and equipment is needed after diagnostics companies initially prioritized early hot spots like New York.

“We’ve been stretched,” Bernard said. Test manufacturers “don’t give you as much as you want, and it’s been a struggle. We’ve had to work as hard as we can to get things done.”

Covid cases are on the rise in Harris County, home to sprawling Houston, which for a time had been able to meet demand, said Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.

‘Not Enough’

“We’re doing everything we can to meet or increase capacity,” Shah said in an interview. “But it is not enough right now.”

A local Texas health department was still receiving test results by fax as recently as last week, slowing them down further, said David Lakey, UT System’s vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer and the former commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“If we had today 6,400 new cases and you have that kind of volume each day, there isn’t possibly a way for the staff of the local health departments” to do contact tracing, he said. “They are getting overwhelmed right now.”

California has experienced delays, too. Barbara Ferrer, who directs Los Angeles County’s health department, said in an interview that some testing centers can take a week to report results, also creating problems for contact tracing. At that point, those who test positive will have had days to go around infecting more people before the county can talk to them and the people around them, Ferrer said.

In Florida, hundreds of cars have been lining up at test centers. Health officials said wait times could be up to four hours on Monday at the Hard Rock Stadium site serving the Miami metropolitan area, and the Orange County Convention Center site in Central Florida had waits of about five hours. In St. Petersburg, local police said a site at Tropicana Field ran out of tests only about an hour due to “overwhelming turnout.”

“The testing capacity is disappointing,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wrote in a tweet. “We are working with the state to bring additional, expanded testing.”

— With assistance by Joe Carroll, David R Baker, Jonathan Levin, and Rachel Adams-Heard

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New Jersey Schools to Reopen in September With Smaller Class Sizes

New Jersey’s more than 2,500 public schools will open in September with smaller class sizes and a mix of remote and in-person instruction, Governor Phil Murphy said Friday at a Trenton news conference.

Schools should be ready to close if virus cases soar, Murphy said, adding that parents should “appreciate the fact that we’re predicting as best we can.” He said he “can’t fathom” a return to distance learning, but the scenario couldn’t be dismissed.

“I wouldn’t be spending a lot of money on a range of alternatives,” Murphy said of parents who may face abrupt school closings and the need for child care.

The state’s 1.5 million public and private school pupils met via video conferencing and other remote means for three months starting in March. The reopenings were announced as the state reported 13,060 testing-confirmed deaths and, with New York and Connecticut, demands self-quarantining from visitors from the hard-hit U.S. South and West.

School buses must be “properly cleaned on a daily basis,” Murphy said. Students will be expected to wear face coverings at all times, while reading circles and other close-contact activities will be suspended.

“Nothing should be left to the last minute,” Murphy said. “We fully expect that districts will share their preliminary plans at least one month” before classes begin.

“There will be hurdles to overcome in a short period of time,” he said. But he said he had confidence in the state’s guidelines.

New Jersey is well beyond its novel coronavirus peak, but a key measure of transmission — the average number of people infected per known carrier — is creeping upward toward 1, after Murphy on June 11 said the 0.62 rate was among the nation’s lowest. Anything higher than 1 means the pandemic is spreading.

The governor has said that opening schools safely is among the state’s toughest tasks, with health experts expecting cases to climb as New Jersey reopens. They project a broader surge in the latter part of the year.

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