Ninety days after ordering flags in New Jersey to be lowered to half-staff in memory of those lost to coronavirus, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is calling for flags to rise again while keeping the memories of lives lost in mind.
After announcing 27 new confirmed deaths Thursday to bring the death toll of people confirmed to have died from coronavirus-related complications to 13,251, Murphy said flags would return to full-staff on Friday "as a sign of rebirth for our state."
In addition to the confirmed deaths, there have been at least 1,854 suspected deaths from the virus, the governor reported.
Murphy, a first-term Democrat, noted that he will continue to tell stories of those lost to COVID-19.
New Jersey was hit particularly hard by COVID-19 earlier in the outbreak and to date has had more than 172,000 positive cases.
Despite the death toll and case total, Murphy has pointed to weeks of lowered hospitalizations, ICU cases and positivity rates for allowing him to release restrictions on some parts of the state’s economy.
"We have to keep up with the practices that have gotten us this far in the past three months," Murphy said Thursday. "We are a model for the nation on how to responsibly restart – let’s keep it that way."
Part of the state's plan to keep COVID-19 in check is expansion of its coronavirus contact tracing program in partnership with Rutgers University.
As of Thursday, the community tracing corps had added 130 more contact tracers. There are now more than 350 community tracers working in the state, Murphy said. Those tracers are in addition to nearly 900 local and county contact tracers.
On Thursday, and the state’s amusement and water parks were given the all clear to open with safety measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in place.
Playgrounds, museums, aquariums, libraries, boardwalk arcades, indoor shooting ranges, bowling alleys and indoor batting cages were also allowed to reopen in time for the normally busy July 4th holiday weekend.
People must wear face coverings and keep distance from others at the entertainment locations.
On Thursday, Murphy confirmed that he would sign an executive order extending the limit on crowds outdoors to 500 people as of Friday. This allows for outdoor graduation ceremonies next week.
Murphy also, as expected, extended the public health emergency order by another 30 days.
"This means we’ll have the authority to remain vigilant and prepared to act should there be a new outbreak of COVID-19," Murphy said.