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N.J. COVID updates: Capacity expands to 50% for indoor dining, other businesses; South African variant confir – NJ.com

New Jersey’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic took another incremental step forward Wednesday as Gov. Phil Murphy announced that restaurants and many other indoor businesses can increase their capacities from 35% to 50% next week.

Bars, casinos, gyms, personal care services and amusement venues will also be able to be half-filled starting at 6 a.m. on March 19.

The limit on private gatherings will also increase to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors. Religious services or ceremonies, political events, weddings, funerals and memorial services have higher limits.

Indoor dining capacity was originally reopened at 25% just before Labor Day weekend. Murphy increased that capacity to 35% in early February.

The governor said the limits are being increased due to the sharp decline in hospitalizations in the past month. The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals has decreased by about 1,000 since Feb. 5.

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, there were 1,936 patients in the state’s 71 hospitals with the coronavirus or a suspected case, down from 1,961 in the previous 24-hour period. There were 392 people receiving intensive care, with 230 on ventilators. Hospitalizations have decreased 45% since Jan. 1.

On Wednesday, Murphy disclosed 3,047 more COVID-19 cases and 56 additional deaths.

At least 2,711,524 vaccine doses around the state have been administered as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage

Here’s a roundup of the latest coronavirus news in New Jersey and elsewhere:

Coronavirus claims the lives of 3 veteran NJ Transit bus employees: Three NJ Transit bus employees, who served for decades, died from complications due to the coronavirus, officials said.

The announcement came a day after NJ Transit posted a tribute video on social media to the employees that the agency lost due to COVID-19 and to thank employees who kept service operating during a full year of the coronavirus.

COVID closes Oakland MVC agency, bringing total shuttered statewide to 12: The state Motor Vehicle Commission lost another agency Wednesday that had to close due to an employee testing positive for the coronavirus.

But the scales could even out for drivers on Thursday when another agency is scheduled to reopen.

The MVC closed the Oakland licensing center Wednesday afternoon after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. After sanitizing, contact tracing and any needed employee quarantining, it is scheduled to reopen on March 23.

21 school districts brought students back for in-person learning this week. See the list.: Twenty-one districts brought students back into classrooms part-time this week, as schools continue to change learning formats during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As of Monday, 543 districts were hybrid, 127 remote, and 109 were fully in-person. Twenty-one districts made the switch to hybrid learning this week, while the number of fully in-person districts decreased by two. Thirty-three districts have different educational formats for different schools.

Every N.J. kid now has a laptop for online school, Murphy says: Nearly one year after ordering all schools to close, Murphy announced Wednesday that every New Jersey student should now have a laptop and internet access for online classes.

The closing of the state’s digital divide comes as about 367,000 students remain in all-virtual instruction. Another 831,000 students attend schools that offer hybrid in-person learning, meaning close to 1.2 million students (about 89%) currently spend at least part of the school week learning from home.

N.J. confirms 1st case of more contagious South African COVID variant. Total variant cases up to 145.: New Jersey health officials announced Wednesday the first case of the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has been confirmed in the state.

The case in Hudson County brings the total number of variant cases found in New Jersey to 145, state Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

U.S. cases: At least 529,267 of the approximately 29.1 million to test positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. have died as of 7 a.m. Thursday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Worldwide cases: As of 7 a.m. Thursday, the coronavirus has led to at least 2,621,986 million deaths in 192 counties, according to the center. More than 118.1 million have been infected since the outbreak started in December 2019. At least 66.9 million have recovered.

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NJ Advance Media staff writers Matt Arco, Adam Clark Nick Devlin, Larry Higgs and Katie Kausch, contributed to this report.

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