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No Sitting on Santa’s Lap This Year: Health Department Issues Winter Holiday Guidance

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) issued guidance on ways to have a happy and safe holiday season, which includes being socially distance when taking pictures with Santa Claus at the mall.

The guidance document included instructions for indoor holiday gatherings, virtual and outdoor visits with Santa, and measures for choirs and parades designed to celebrate the season.

“Sharing celebrations with family and friends are important holiday milestones,” said NJDOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli in a press statement. “However, this year will be a holiday season like no other, and we must continue to maintain our vigilance against COVID-19 and celebrate safely and responsibly to ensure healthy holidays.”

Gatherings for Holiday Celebrations

The guidance noted gatherings would need to comply with current indoor and outdoor capacity limits, and that it would be best to limit indoor gatherings to individuals who reside within a particular household. The indoor gather limit is set at 10 and outdoor is limited to 25 people.

The guidance urged organizers to live stream celebrations and events. For ceremonies such as tree lightings, menorah lightings and other holiday lighting events, state officials are asking for those events to be held outdoors.

Holiday parades are discouraged. For those taking place, organizers were urged to collect names and phone numbers for participants in case of the need for contact tracing later on.

“Parade participants should not be permitted to throw items from their floats or cars to spectators,” stated NJDOH’s Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Ed Lifshitz at a press briefing Nov. 30. “With increased cases, we must continue to maintain our vigilance against COVID-19, and celebrate safely, and responsibly to ensure healthy holidays.”

Santa, Choirs, and Parades

The state urged alternatives to visiting Santa at indoor locations, and to comply with current gathering limits. For indoor Santa photo visits, the state warned operators to comply with social distancing protocols.

“It is strongly recommended that people consider alternatives to visiting Santa indoor locations such as virtual visits or outdoor socially distanced visits and photos with Santa,” said Lifshitz. “If malls and other indoor locations still choose to offer in-person visits, these visits should be made via reservation, be socially-distant, and time-limited.”

The protocols include Santa staff and guests over age two must wear masks and children are not permitted to sit on Santa’s lap. The guidance sets protocols requires in caroling due to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The state developed protocols for choirs and caroling due to the increase risk of COVID-19 transmission. Singing groups were to be socially distance between each other and their audience during each performance, a minimum of at least 10 feet away from others or have physical barriers between them and the audience.

Daily Data

As of Dec. 1, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 341,910 with 4,661 total new cases reported and 90 new deaths, bringing that total to 15,254. The state listed probable deaths at 1,829, bringing the overall total to 17,083.

For North Jersey counties, Bergen had a total of 454 new cases, Essex 436 new cases, Passaic 389 new cases, Hudson 358 new cases, Morris 289 new cases, Sussex 59 new cases and Warren 13 new cases.

State officials noted 43 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,005, followed by Bergen at 1,889, Hudson with 1,423, Passaic at 1,176, Morris at 716, Sussex at 162 and Warren with 160.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 250, Essex has 233, Hudson has 159, Morris at 147, Passaic at 144, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 13.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Nov. 26 was 11.3%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. 

As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 1.10 from 1.11 the day before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 3,129 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 1,514 in the North, 934 in the Central and 681 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 601 are in intensive care units and 359 on ventilators, while 225 patients were discharged.

Essex Tops County Count

Essex has the most cumulative cases in the state with 35,788, followed by Bergen at 35,327, Hudson at 32,033, Middlesex at 31,107, Passaic at 30,576, Union at 28,756, Ocean at 22,277, Monmouth at 20,961, Camden at 19,501, Burlington at 14,017, Mercer at 13,992, Morris at 13,928, Somerset at 9,231, Gloucester at 9,190, Atlantic at 8,122, Cumberland at 5,168, Sussex at 2,655, Hunterdon at 2,535, Warren at 2,526, Cape May at 1,684 and Salem at 1,663.

Another 873 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 66 outbreaks involving 269 cases have been reported in 19 of the 21 counties in the Garden State, with 10 new outbreaks involving 30 cases recorded. For North Jersey, Bergen County has eight confirmed outbreaks with 21 cases, Sussex County has three confirmed outbreaks with seven cases, Warren County has four confirmed outbreaks with nine cases, Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases and Passaic County has two confirmed outbreaks with 19 cases. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 336 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 6,216 of the cases, broken down between 2,913 residents and 3,303 staff. 

Cumulatively, 1,015 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 26,908 residents and 15,946 staff, for a total of 42,854 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,308 on Dec. 1. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,952 residents deaths and 122 staff deaths.

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