TRENTON — The dining room table might be a dangerous place this year.

With Thanksgiving — one of the most important family holidays on the calendar since the pandemic began in March — fast approaching, Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday urged caution.

“We do not want Thanksgiving dinner to turn tragic because someone unwittingly exposed a large number of their family members to the coronavirus,” Murphy said. “This isn’t the year to plan to visit out-of-state relatives or to invite them to New Jersey.”

Murphy and other governors on Wednesday spoke with CDC Director Robert Redfield, who said that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases could be attributed to small household gatherings, not public activities. Redfield warned that Thanksgiving could send COVID-19 cases soaring.

It was a gathering at the start of the pandemic this year that ended up killing five members of a single family and sickening nearly two dozen others. The Fusco family developed COVID-19 before New Jersey imposed the pandemic restrictions, when the public still knew little about the dangerous threat. Health officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of that tragedy.

New Jersey’s pandemic restrictions, which at one point this year ordered non-essential retail stores to close and restaurants to only serve take-out, have largely been lifted. Indoor dining remains with a limit at 25% capacity and milling around a bar with drink in hand is still prohibited.

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“Where we can regulate, where we can enforce compliance, we’re largely in good shape as a state,” Murphy said. “It’s where we can’t, where we can’t get inside your house, where we can’t get inside packed-in, congregate, multi-generational family living — that’s where we are seeing not all of the challenges but where we are seeing the bulk.”

New Jersey on Thursday reported 973 new cases of COVID-19 and six new deaths for a total of at least 14,408 deaths. Hospitals were treating 733 COVID-19 patients, with 178 in intensive care and 60 requiring ventilators. Coronavirus cases in New Jersey have been increasing for about a week and the state’s numbers mean that New Jersey would be placed on its own travel-restriction list with 38 other states and U.S. jurisdictions.

Murphy suggested that people “plan for a smaller table this year so that we can help ensure that you can once again gather at a larger one next year.”

He also suggested family gatherings between now and through Thanksgiving should be limited to close relatives or friends that people have been in contact with during the pandemic.

If possible, he said, move celebrations outdoors, “maybe around a fire pit or a patio heater if you’ve been able to get one.”

New Jersey is allowing Halloween to continue this year but officials encourage lower-risk activities such as household scavenger hunts, providing grab-and-go trick-or-treating or attending outdoor parties.

• Having a small dinner with people of your household
• Having a small outdoor dinner or gathering
• Carefully delivering meals to relatives or neighbors at high-risk for COVID-19
• Shopping online instead of visiting supermarkets
• Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards
• Attending small outdoor sporting events

At any public event, people should wear masks to help reduce the spread of the virus, wash their hands often and maintain distance from other people.

The CDC said high-risk activities include attending crowded parades or sporting events, shopping at crowded stores, attending large gatherings or using drugs or drinking to excess , which can cloud judgment and lead to riskier behavior.

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