Instead of his normal coronavirus news conference, on Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy held a roundtable discussion in a county responsible for the most recent cases of COVID-19.
Murphy and state officials were joined by members of the Ocean County community and religious communities at the 1 p.m. event held outdoors.
Murphy said that over the past few weeks, Ocean County has led the state in cases per capita, positivity rate and other key coronavirus metrics.
Just on Friday alone, Ocean County reported nearly 200 new COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of nearly 16%, Murphy said. Hot spot Lakewood, specifically had a positivity rate of nearly 28%, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
The point of the event was to discuss increased testing and contact tracing in the county and cooperative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, Murphy said. Rabbis were praised for reaching out to the large Jewish community in the Lakewood area where cases have gone up around the High Holy Days. Sukkot starts Friday night.
“No one is here to point fingers or cast blame," Murphy said while noting that every New Jerseyan has a right to worship.
Jewish leaders have been communicating with each other to push for social distancing and outdoor services whenever possible. Masks have also been distributed to dozens of synagogues.
Religious leaders urged people not to draw conclusions about the amount of cases, but rather to take into account increased testing. They are fearful of potential anti-Semitism drawn from the results.
Murphy noted that other New Jersey communities are also seeing upticks of cases. He said no hatred should be tolerated as all of New Jersey is in the fight against the virus together.
The virus has also spread into Lakewood schools where at least seven students and 10 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the start of the school year, Lakewood Public School District Superintendent Laura Winters said. Winters noted that overall the cases in school communities remain low.
Nearly 207,000 COVID-19 cases had been reported in New Jersey with nearly 800 new cases reported on Friday. At least 14,344 people are confirmed to have died of coronavirus-related complications.
Murphy opened his comments by sending wishes for a speedy recovery from coronavirus to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. He also urged people who attended Trump's fundraiser Thursday night in Bedminster to self quarantine and get tested in several days.
Persichilli added that anyone feeling ill should get tested as soon as possible.