As NJ parties, coronavirus transmission rate spikes

Alpine Mayor Paul Tomasko says a backyard pool bash at a mansion on Saturday night bused in paid guests from New York and did little to control the spread of the coronavirus as hundreds partied with food and liquor into the night.

“We didn’t see any particular social distancing or wearing of face masks. Our police were on the scene, along with mutual aid from several other jurisdictions and municipalities to assure the safety of all concerned,” he said. “I can’t imagine why someone would be doing this, pushing the limit in this direction at this time. Personally, I’m aghast.”

Tomasko says neighbors complained about another party at the same house in early June. A promoter’s been running ads for an Aug. 8 pool party with video clearly showing the house.

Gov. Phil Murphy sounded an alarm and tightened restrictions because house parties, like the ones in Jackson and Long Beach Island, could be spreading COVID-19 across New Jersey by raising the statewide rate of transmission. It jumped from 0.87 just a month ago to a reported 1.41 on Aug. 4. The rate needs to stay below 1.0 to contain the virus.

“Until we begin to see the numbers of cases decrease, not just for a day or two, but over at least a 7-day trend, and our rate of transmission drop appreciably over a sustained period of time, these restrictions will remain in place. And, we expect local police to strictly enforce them,” Murphy said during Monday’s coronavirus briefing.

Epidemiologists say outdoor party-goers still run risks.

“Anytime there’s food or any sort of beverage people can’t keep a mask on,” said epidemiologist and Montclair State University professor Stephanie Silvera. “You’re paying for the opportunity to expose yourself to the virus, essentially, with a lot of other people that you don’t know and you don’t know what their behaviors outside of this party are.”

She said big parties make it harder to contact trace.

“People coming from all over and crossing state lines, it makes the contact tracing much harder, which means we’re going to start heading toward this second peak that we’ve all been trying to really avoid,” Silvera said.

Camden County Health Officer Dr. Paschal Nwako reports two recent parties linked to COVID clusters. He says people aged 20 to 40 account for 60% of new infections in the county. And that creates another problem for contact tracers.

“When we contact trace this age group, they don’t want to talk about the people they were around. They don’t want to rat them out. They don’t want to talk about their friends,” he said.

He says only 10% of party-goers cooperate fully.

Meanwhile, contact tracing for the Alpine party is now up to health officials in New York. The home’s listed owner Joseph LaBarbiera, who’s apparently rented the mansion, refused to comment.

“We’ve been in touch with this owner enough to make him aware that this is not in keeping with the way his property should be used, especially at the time of a pandemic,” Tomasko said.

The mayor says if there’s another bash at the mansion, as advertised, he’s likely to summon the State Police.