Murphy: COVID-19 cases are climbing in northern New Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's climbing number of COVID-19 cases are beginning to spread to northern counties around New York, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

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Murphy spoke during a remote news conference while he isolates at home after coming into contact with a COVID-19-positive staffer over the weekend. He has said he tested negative Wednesday and plans to take another test before returning to in-person events.

Essex, Union, Hudson and Bergen counties reported more than 100 new cases overnight, Murphy said, eclipsing recent hot spots in Ocean and Monmouth counties.

Murphy said earlier in the day that the climbing figures seem to stem from gatherings at people's houses, not from meetings in the “public square.”

Statewide, there were nearly 1,200 new cases, putting the total at over 224,000 since March, said Murphy, a Democrat. There were 18 deaths reported overnight, leaving the toll at 14,474. The figures, Murphy said, were “sobering.”

That comes after health officials said the overnight number of cases has roughly doubled from a month ago, when daily increases numbered about 500 a day.

A look at other developments:

JOBLESS CLAIMS DIP

More than 28,000 people sought jobless benefits last week in New Jersey, state labor officials said.

That's down from more than 29,000 applications for unemployment benefits the previous week, but shows the effect COVID-19 is having on the job market, the governor said.

So far, more than 1.7 million people in the state have sought jobless benefits since the outbreak began in March.

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IN-PERSON VOTING ‘AS WE HAVE LAID OUT'

In-person voting will carry on as laid out under current law “right now,” the governor said.

Murphy was asked whether he might scale back in-person voting because of the virus.

“Right now, it is as we have laid out," he said.

All registered voters got mail-in ballots under Murphy's executive order as well as a recently passed law in response to the virus outbreak. Under the law, voters can return the ballots by mail, official drop box or in person on Election Day at polling places.

Murphy also said Thursday that nearly 2.2 million voters have already returned their ballots to county officials. That's 55% of the turnout in the 2016 presidential election, Murphy said.

Ballots must be returned, postmarked, or voted in person by Election Day, Nov. 3.

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CHRISTIE SAYS HE WAS ‘WRONG' TO TAKE MASK OFF

Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday appeared remotely alongside Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to discuss his experience with COVID-19.

Christie tested positive after prepping President Donald Trump for his debate with Joe Biden earlier this month, and after attending a White House ceremony nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He was hospitalized and in the intensive care unit for nearly a week, he said.

Christie, who also published a Wall Street Journal opinion article this week, urged people to wear masks and said the inconvenience of it is nothing compared to how painful and isolating the virus is.

“I thought I was safe. I was wrong," he said.

Murphy, who succeeded the term-limited Christie in 2018 after bashing him regularly, praised his predecessor earlier on Thursday. Murphy said Christie's comments showed good character and that mask-wearing isn't a political statement.